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Safe Habits Make Surfing Safe By John Hendricks

Bullying – what comes to mind? Is it a burly, overweight 5th grader beating up a skinny, bespectacled 3rd grader on the playground? Is it three teenage girls snickering behind another girl’s back in the hallway? Or, is it the smallest kind in the class who has become the sole target in a game of dodgeball and gets his lunch money taken away every day? These are the images that are typically associated with bullying – noticeable actions that authority figures usually can address. However, there is one type of bullying that isn’t so noticeable, one that often goes undetected by parents, teachers, and other adults – cyberbullying.

In 2004, one survey revealed that about 28% of students in the U.S. reported being bullied. Less than a decade later, another study showed that over 75% of the students surveyed admitted to being the victim of some type of bullying. What could have been the reason for this dramatic increase? Many would suggest that access to mobile communication was a large contributor. In the past few years, cyberbullying has become extremely common as more and more teens have become connected to each other through the internet, social media, and texting. Unlike physical assault, cyberbullying can happen anywhere, even if the victim is nowhere near the attacker. Three out of every four teens carry smartphones, so, for most youth, cyberbullying can happen around the clock. For many teens, it’s hard to separate themselves from cyberbullying. However, there are some smartphone habits that can decrease the likelihood of cyberbullying and help teens cope with it:

1. Wait to participate in online social networking until you have developed the maturity required to handle the online interactions with others.

A recent study completed at Rochester University suggests that the human brain fully develops at about age 25. With this development comes maturity, self-confidence, and independence ¬– the qualities needed to defend oneself from the influence of detrimental remarks posted to social networks. Even though most social media outlets require users to be at least 13 years old, more than half of children under the age of 10 already use some sort of social media regularly. These young children have not yet developed the maturity to properly handle social media, which could result in poor decision making while online. For example, an inexperienced user might provide their personal information to a complete stranger, which could endanger both them and their family. In addition, if the child is subject to types of cyberbullying such as outing (personal secrets shared to deliberately humiliate someone), cyberstalking (continued threats and rude messages), or denigration (malicious messages that mock the victim), coping with the emotional stress of these types of harassment would be difficult.

2. Share your personal information online only with friends that you know and trust.

Almost 90% of teenagers use social media. Through social media outlets such Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, and texting, users are exposed to a constant exchange of their peers’ thoughts and feelings. Therefore, it’s important for teens to surround themselves only with people that they know and trust while online. In order to have a large number of friends or followers, many social media users accept friend requests from anyone, even strangers. When teens become connected to these people online, personal information including feelings, interests and physical appearances are shared. This makes adolescents vulnerable to negative and damaging comments by strangers who have no concern for the psychological effects those comments might have. On the other hand, if teens have the habit of accepting friend requests only from people they know personally, they are protected, knowing that only their friends can view and comment on their personal information.

Cyberbullying is a recent but very serious issue, and shouldn’t be ignored. One out of every three teenagers experience multiple incidents of cyberbullying. No one should have to bear the weight of hurtful comments made about them on social media. It is of the utmost importance that internet users, especially teens, develop beneficial routines for social networking because safe habits make surfing safe.