The sad case of Maple Ridge's Amanda Todd made international news after the 15-year-old student, unable to evade her school bullies and a stalker, took her own life last week. The tragedy underlined the serious nature of cyber bullying, shedding some much needed light on the need for parents and schools to educate children and take a more active role in their online world.
Privacy is all well and good, but it's a grown-up concept.
The worst part of cyber-bullying is the scale of it. It involves greater numbers of people, both bullies and victims, and åhumiliates its victims in a much broader, more public way than schoolyard bullying ever could.
The web also lets the bullies remain anonymous. It lets them follow their victims everywhere they go, so there are no safe refuges — not even home. The web is also an incredibly diverse place, making it nearly impossible for police, parents, teachers and others to coordinate any kind of response.
Eventually I think we're going to see real I.D. on the web where you can no longer hide behind fake user names and throwaway email addresses, but until then there are things parents can do:
* Insist on openness. If your kids are on Facebook or Twitter or any other social networking hub, they must add you to their friends list. They can defriend you when they're 18, but until then they don't really have any rights that supersede yours.
* If you pay for your teen's phone then you should have complete access to it. You should be able to see photos, read texts and posts, etc. Again, it's technically your phone, and minors in your care have no real privacy rights. Tell them this up front so they know you'll be watching.
* Stay one step ahead of your kids. Use parental settings on computers, keep computers in common areas of your home and make sure you know how to access every piece of technology they use. If they're using an online forum for something, you need to know what it's all about. And make sure your kids understand that it's important to be suspicious of everyone, and that the consequences are very real and very serious.
* Don't be afraid to take things away — phones, video game consoles, computer privileges, etc. if you think they're being used improperly.
* Tell your kids about Amanda Todd. It's what her parents and friends want, and it's the best way to prevent the next Amanda Todd from happening.