Education Matters: Helping to dissolve cyber bullying

Editor's Note: Numerous instances of plagiarism have been discovered in Dan Kimber’s “Education Matters” column, which ran in the News- Press from September 2003 to September 2011. In those columns where plagiarism has been found, a For the Record specifying the details will be appended to the piece.

The California Legislature recently passed Assembly Bill 746, making posts on social networks for the purpose of bullying grounds for suspension or expulsion from school.

A few years back, I wrote about this issue in the aftermath of a student suicide in our district that was linked to a cyber bullying incident. The problem has not gone away.

By definition, “cyber bullying” is any electronic communication, phone or Internet, that threatens or demeans another. Parents across the country are fretting more about protecting their kids on Facebook, but many of the products that aim to help are intrusive, and inject the parents into the child’s online social life in a way that’s awkward for both.

Research on this topic reveals some alarming statistics.

A 2010 report claims that 21% of kids have been cyber bullied at least once in their lives: that's one out of every five kids. Methods used include nasty or hurtful comments, circulating rumors, making threats, and posting malicious or hurtful pictures.

The effects of cyber bullying include lowered self-esteem, anxiety when in locations where offenders are found (i.e. school), and sadly, even suicide. Parents of children victimized by cyber bullying may wonder what can be done. A good place to start is by becoming aware of state laws regarding cyber bullying.

A complete list of state laws can be found on the National Conference of State Legislatures' website at:

A better place to start is to have a positive and open relationship with your child and to encourage him or her to speak with you if they are being bullied. Teens, always wanting to assert their autonomy, are least prone to speaking about the subject. Sometimes the last thing they want is to feel like a little child still in need of the protective embrace of their parents.

My research on the subject brought me to a software application called ZoneAlarm SocialGuard, which seems to strike a good balance between safety and privacy, between a parent’s peace of mind and a teen’s sense of freedom.

Every five minutes, it monitors kids’ Facebook accounts for approaches by potential predators and strangers, cyber-bullying, age fraud, account hacking, and links to inappropriate or malicious websites. It uses algorithms that look for certain types of language, profile data, or other clues that unwanted activity may be under way.

It does this in a way that is invisible to the child’s friends, and doesn’t require the parent to be on guard all the time, or even to be on Facebook at all. If the service finds a possible problem, it emails the parent, the child, or both. This happens outside of Facebook itself. The service doesn’t give the parent the ability to directly read or leave comments on the child’s Facebook wall.

While it monitors such things as messages, profiles and wall posts on a Facebook account, it doesn’t monitor Facebook chats, places and events, or photos, though it does check the text accompanying photos and the people who tag the pictures. So, if your son or daughter is posting pictures you consider inappropriate, SocialGuard can’t warn you.

Finally, like all security software, it isn’t a silver bullet, even in the areas it does cover. Good old-fashioned communication between parent and child is the first line of defense. And a good old-fashioned education is also in order for our children whose increasingly preferred form of communication should come with rules.

As long as people are more likely to write down something they wouldn’t say verbally, we need to impress on our children at a very early age that their words, however they are conveyed, make a difference. Their choice of words can encourage and uplift but they can also hurt and scar.

As long as a touch of a button can convert what used to be private communications into public discourses (or spectacles), we need to impress on our children that words matter, especially when those words are casually sent out to the hordes by pressing “share” or some other button that instantly makes it public.

We might remind this new generation of interconnected kids from time to time that not every spare thought needs to be documented, and that there is this thing called the Golden Rule, centuries old, but more applicable than ever in this new age of communication.

DAN KIMBER taught in the Glendale Unified School District for more than 30 years. He may be reached at


FOR THE RECORD: Portions of this piece have been plagiarized from multiple articles by Walt Mossberg, Russ Warner, Vince Horiuchi and Dry News. Mossberg’s piece, “Monitor Kids on Facebook Without Being Their ‘Friend,'" was published by “All Things D” on July 27, 2011. Warner’s piece “Monitoring for Cyberbullying Can Save Your Child” was published by “The Net Nanny” on June 7, 2011. Horiuchi’s piece, “Stopping cyber-bullying in the schools,” was published by The Salt Lake Tribune on July 11, 2011. Dry News’ piece, “Bullying Words Hurt,” was published on their website on June 24, 2011


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