By Rose Watson

Alison JacobsonTechnology has become a fundamental part of life and cyberbullying along with cyberpredators are a legitimate concern for all parents. Alison Jacobson, nicknamed the “Safety Mom,” is a driving force for cyber education and anti-bullying campaigns across the United States. Jacobson shares her knowledge on how to educate and protect kids who may not understand all the pitfalls of online interaction.

Cyberbullying has become an epidemic. With the ability to act behind the anonymity of a screen, attacks can be much more vicious and are aimed at the victim’s psychological well-being. The bullies themselves may not understand the extent to which their comments can affect an individual. The lack of context and body language online can create extremely cruel attacks. Online bullying can start as young as third grade, so it’s important to be aware. Being able to identify the signs of being bullied is imperative to helping a child out of that situation. Jacobson advises that a parent should look for their child being less excited for activities they previously enjoyed, hesitant to go to school and disinterested in social situations with other kids. However, parents are often still surprised to find out that their child is being bullied.

Cyberpredators are a different kind of threat altogether. Predators are usually much older than their targets and are often known to or acquaintances of their targets. “About 78 percent of victims of cyberpredation are young girls between the ages of 8 and 17 years old,” Jacobson said. “[Predators are] usually reaching out to a hundred or so [girls] at a time.” Predators use manipulation to get to their targets, often feeding them validation and compliments to create a false sense of closeness. Especially with young girls, there is a sense of being special to this mysterious older person, which is intoxicating. The predator uses that as leverage in their grooming of a victim to accept abuse. Sometimes cyberpredators will escalate the relationship to stalking and threatening their targets, especially when the victim tries to end the relationship.

So how can a parent protect their child? “Always keep your accounts private,” Jacobson said. She also recommends a healthy use of the block feature many social media have, keeping geotags off posts so people cannot see where a child is when they post, and also being aware of what children post. Jacobson urges parents to learn how to use the platforms their children interact on so they can understand how bullies and predators can reach their children. Snapchat is as different from Facebook as ice cream is from spaghetti; an understanding of the differences is crucial to helping a child. Above all, Jacobson asks that people try to be the parents that their children can trust and bring their problems to. Often there is a level of shame and embarrassment for the victim of both cyberbullies and cyberpredators. If a child feels comfortable bringing their situation to their parents, the parents and children can then work together as a team to solve the problem.

The internet is a scary, troubling, wonderful and exciting place that can be full of danger. Learning how to interact with it in a safe, positive way is critical to a successful social and work life for both kids and adults. By taking precautions and understanding the new mediums that the internet creates, families can have a fun, safe and productive online presence.