By Barbara A. Samfield, MA-CCC/SLP
Do words matter? The short answer is: yes. While children still chant “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me,” the truth is, words do matter, especially digital messages, and often have lasting effects.
Messages with unclear meanings coupled with the anonymity of the poster, can become a cyber-minefield for students as they navigate peer relationships. If digital photos are also sent and received, then these can easily be misinterpreted or go viral.
Inappropriate photos taken without the person’s consent may be illegal. Digital messages can never be permanently deleted either. Many tweens and teens are not mature enough to cope with this unwanted or unwarranted digital Let’s face it – today’s technology has profoundly changed the way we communicate. A quick glance at students in any small group shows many focused on their phones instead of each other.
Parents are often unaware of the content of this aspect of their children’s daily lives, but need to know what their children are doing in cyberspace and have regular discussions about responsible use. One helpful website for families, with tips on internet safety for various ages and grades is: https://www.staysafeonline.org/stay-safe-online/for-parents/raising-digital-citizens
Students especially need help dealing with negative messages, such as cyberbullying. Today’s form of intimidation has exponentially more impact on its victims because it is immediate and can become widespread with a few taps on a smartphone. It can occur at anytime, often while the child is alone. Some statistics show that while 50% of adolescents have been cyberbullied in some way, only 10% may tell a parent. Cyberbullying is surprisingly common among this age group, with as many as 50% initiating or participating. See: http://www.bullyingstatistics.org/content/cyber-bullying-statistics.html
Most schools have developed rules regarding cyberbullying and many can be accessed on school district websites. In dealing with cyberbullying, Texas State University has created a Bully Prevention Flowchart to help parents and educators decide if digital interaction could be a form of bullying, which may have legal consequences for the bully: https://locker.txssc.txstate.edu/ce39c30fb42a4920322d8aa21aa807d4/Bully-Prevention-Flowchart.pdf
A parent can be a child’s best ally in dealing with cyberbullying. Best advice? Keep the lines of Barbara Samfield is owner of the Speech and Language Center at Stone Oak , a private practice of speech-language pathologists in the Stone Oak area. Clients are seen individually by appointment, with evening hours available. Many health plans have speech benefits. To find out about your health plan, or for more information about the Speech and Language Center at Stone Oak, call 210.495.9944.