According to Childstat.gov, approximately 36 percent of children between the ages of 12 and 14 routinely care for themselves—unsupervised. While that may sound reasonable, unsupervised time at home and school often leads to curious behavior that puts these children at risk of being a victim of assault, bullying or kidnapping.
In the past parents and grandparents taught their children not to speak to strangers in parks or at the mall. Protecting children from strangers has changed since the explosion of the Internet and the introduction of mobile devices. Parents today should discuss identity theft protection, cyberbullying, and other perverse behavior on the Internet because children can unknowingly invite strangers into the privacy of their home through chat rooms and online games.
A study revealed that 76 percent of Internet-initiated crimes against minors started in an online chat room, according to the US Department of Justice (USDOJ). Teenagers today are just as likely to have a personal mobile device as a computer at home.
Although engaged parents supervise their children’s Internet activities at home, many children access the Internet on their phone, away from home, and without any adult supervision. Thirty-nine percent of all teens admit to sending “sexy” digital messages or material. Forty-four percent of these offenders say they know that unintended recipients receive these personal messages.
Bullying Moves Away From the Schoolyard
Beyond the dangers of risky behavior in chat rooms, children today fall victim to aggressive bullying face-to-face and online. The anonymity of posting hurtful or demeaning information from behind a computer screen seems to increase both the frequency and viciousness of the attacks.
According to Dosomething.org, 80 percent of teenagers use a cell phone. Cell phones are the most common instrument for bullying . Since the Internet reaches beyond the school yard, the attacks never end. The web provides opportunities 24 hours a day for bullies to keep pestering, mocking and teasing their victims.
The Many Faces of Cyberbullying
Cyberbullying has many faces. Groups of children “gang up” on one child, sending a constant barrage of taunts and insults that never stop. Sometimes, the victims attack the bully, turning frustration into retaliatory rage. Sadly, many children do not tell parents or school authorities that they are being bullied.
New Jersey lawmakers passed legislation aimed at curtailing bullying in the school environment. Although anti-bullying laws sound beneficial, some experts like Emily Bazelon who wrote a book on bullying isn’t so sure the laws will accomplish their objectives.
Bazelon told NPR host, Steve Inskeep, she believes the New Jersey law focuses too much on the criminalization of bullies and not enough on prevention through better school environments. Bazelon also mentioned that the laws provide strict guidelines for school programs, but that many of these schools lack the funding and support to see these programs flourish.
Bazelon also recommends that parents and grandparents not protect every aspect of their child’s life; they should feel free to communicate with their peers and learn how to handle some of life’s adversities on their own as well. After all, part of growing up is overcoming some of life’s obstacles on our own.