FRIDAY, Aug. 20 (HealthDay News)-- Being bullied in cyberspace and "sexting" are major problems for school-age children, and parents need to be aware of this to protect them, says an expert.
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Research suggests that as many as 25% of children in the United States report being subjected to cyberbullying, which is the use of technological devices to deliberately harass or harm other people through e-mail, text messaging, instant messaging, cell phones and online social networking sites.
"With the increase in technological devices, children are now using [them] to harass and harm other children," Bridget Roberts-Pittman, an assistant professor of counseling at Indiana State University, said in a university news release. "Many children have personal cell phones, making it very easy to use these devices in that way. Communication in cyberspace also seems more anonymous and seems to require less responsibility on the part of the child committing the behavior."
And at least 20% of teens say they've engaged in sexting, which is the sending of sexually explicit photos via cell phones.
"Teens and their parents are not aware of the serious nature of such an act and the potentially life-long consequences" of sexting, Roberts-Pittman warned. For example, teens arrested for sexting can be charged with the possession or distribution of child pornography and be required to register as a sex offender for up to 20 years in some states.
She said worrisome changes in a child's behavior may be an indication of cyberbullying or sexting.
"Behavior change is a part of adolescence. However, a significant change could mean the child is dealing with a serious issue such as cyberbullying. Parents should be aware of signs such as anxiety, depression, their child not wanting to attend school or making a drastic decision such as quitting a sports team," Roberts-Pittman said.
In addition, parents need to monitor their children's phone and Internet use and can do so using software packages such as Spectorsoft or I Am Big Brother.
"Parents need to talk to their children about cyberbullying and sexting. Children today are so saturated with technology that they might not even recognize the behavior as a serious problem," Roberts-Pittman said. "Keeping an open dialogue about issues such as peers is not easy, but it is very important for children to know they can talk to their parents."
She added that parents should also let their children know that there are remedies for cyberbullying, including talking to the police about harassment and contacting social networking sites to take down the offending information.
-- Robert Preidt
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