Once considered a “rite of passage,” bullying is now viewed as a disturbing form of abuse. In many cases, bullying has caused long-term emotional damage to children and their families, and in some instances, even death. According to the iSAFE foundation, “over half of adolescents and teens have been bullied online, and about the same number have engaged in cyber bullying.”
Cyber bullying, a recent phenomenon that has coincided with the growing use of Internet and mobile devices, has tragic consequences for children, their families and communities across the world. As cyber bullying has become more common, it is important for parents to understand both its nature and how to be more hands-on when it comes to prevention.
- Sending mean messages or threats to a person’s email account or cell phone
- Spreading rumors online or through text messages
- Posting hurtful or threatening messages on social networking sites or web pages
- Stealing a person’s account information to break into an online account, and send damaging messages
- Pretending to be someone else online to hurt another person
- Taking unflattering pictures of a person and spreading them through cell phones or the Internet
- Sexting, or circulating sexually suggestive pictures or messages about a person
Insurance and Cyber Bullying: Protection for Parents
Parents whose children have been negatively affected by cyber bullying have recently started taking action, including suing the parents of their child’s bullies for personal injury. Usually unaware of the issue until after the fact, the parents facing lawsuits are unprepared both emotionally and financially. Most standard homeowners insurance policies do not cover personal injury, and court costs can extend well into the millions, depending on the extent of harm done.
Coverage for personal injuries like slander and libel may be covered by most homeowners policies, but this often requires attaching a special endorsement. But these policies also typically cover liability claims that involve accidental damage, specifically excluding losses that are “expected or intended.” That means if harm is intended—often true in the case of cyber bullying—the policy may not provide coverage. And while some umbrella policies might provide broader coverage, they also often exclude deliberate acts to harm others.
What You Can Do: Taking Preventative Steps
In addition to talking with your children about cyber bullying and offering advice on handling conflict take the following preventative measures to help prevent cyber bullying:
- Keep your home computer in a busy area of your house.
- Set up email and chat accounts with your children. Make sure you know their screen names and passwords, and check to be certain they don’t include any personal information in their online profiles.
- Regularly review your child’s instant messenger “buddy list” with them. Ask who each person is and how your child knows him or her.
- Print this list of acronyms that are commonly used in instant messenger and chat rooms and post it by your computer.
- Discuss cyber bullying with your children and ask if they have ever experienced it or seen it happen to someone.
- Explain that you won’t blame your children if they are cyber bullied. In particular, emphasize that you won’t take away their computer privileges—this is the main reason kids don’t confide in adults when they are cyber bullied.