SchoolFamily Voices

Join our bloggers as they share their experiences on the challenges and joys of helping children succeed in school.

Raising Responsible Digital Citizens: It Takes a Community

by Lynette Owens

In today’s world, kids are using electronic devices before they are reading and writing—which is both exciting and frightening for parents and communities. It seems that with every year that passes, kids are receiving their first cell phone, tablet, or other electronic device at younger and younger ages. As this trend continues, it’s more important than ever to teach kids to use these devices responsibly and become good digital citizens. As well, as these devices leave home and go with kids to classrooms and play dates, it becomes essential that communities work together to teach and promote proper use, respect, and responsibility online.

But what exactly is digital citizenship? It is “the norms of appropriate, responsible behavior with regard to technology use.” Digital citizenship involves not only using technology and devices appropriately, but also being responsible with all that comes with them, from social media access to Internet searches.

Community Members’ Roles

Helping kids be good digital citizens is no small task; that is why entire communities—parents, teachers, coaches, and other community members—must work together to model and encourage it. From a child in kindergarten getting online for the first time, to a senior in high school getting online for the zillionth time, we all have a role in beginning and continuing conversations about what it means to be good digital citizens.

  • Parents and guardians: In most cases, this is the group that introduces kids to technology for the first time. Families make different choices about when and what their kids can access at young ages, but they should do so with eyes wide open. Parents should use the devices and apps that their kids use, share stories and advice with other parents, and, most important, talk to their kids about what it means to use the Internet safely, responsibly, and wisely. They should have this first discussion when their kids are at a young age and keep the communication going.
  • Schools: As technology’s role in schools and classrooms continues to increase, so does the importance of teaching digital citizenship. If schools require students to use Internet-connected devices and online services for schoolwork and in collaborative ways, they should also provide guidance on appropriate use, both when the kids are in school and elsewhere (home, library, a friend’s house). Ideally, these messages are reinforced by the same messages kids are receiving from their parents.
  • Law and government officials: Access to the Internet and technology isn’t a right, but a privilege. For this reason, it is important that both law and government officials come together to not only create but enforce policies related to digital citizenship. Additionally, these policies should be promoted and discussed with members of the community so that everyone can learn to practice good digital citizenship.

Every group in a community plays a role teaching or role-modeling digital citizenship, whether by deliberate action or simply by the way we set examples. By working together, we can ensure the messages of what it means to be great at being online will be reinforced, wherever kids are, so that when they are out on their own, they can make great decisions that will help them thrive both on and offline.

Lynette Owens is the founder and global director of Trend Micro’s Internet Safety for Kids and Families (ISKF) program. A mom of two school-age children, Lynette established the ISKF program in 2008 to help extend the company’s vision of making a world safe for the exchange of digital information to the world’s youngest citizens. The program, active in 19 countries, helps kids, families, and schools become safe, responsible, and successful users of technology. Follow Lynette on Twitter @lynettetowens or read her blog: internetsafety.trendmicro.com

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Internet Safety Tips for Teens and Parents

Many experts warn children about the dangers of the Internet. We teach our children to never give their name, address, or phone number to anyone online. We watch them while online to make sure they do not visit inappropriate websites. As children become teens, we tend to back off and trust them to be careful while online. There are great risks for teens, however, and parents need to continue to watch diligently what their adolescents are doing online. The risks do change, but are just as dangerous as when our children were younger.

Teens often know as much or more than their parents do about their electronic devices. Step number one for protecting your teen is to learn what the risks are and what control you have over them. Here are some of the risks I often see affecting the kids I teach.

Lack of sleep. If adolescents take their tablet or smartphone to bed with them, they are likely communicating with their friends throughout the night. The culture now is to answer every tweet, posting, or message the second it goes online. Lack of sleep leads to poor performance in school, drowsiness while driving, and even to depression. It might not be easy to get him to agree, but your teen should turn the devices over to you before bed, and you should keep them with you overnight.

Online bullying. Bullying used to happen during the school day or before and after school. Now, it can go on 24 hours a day, 365 days of the year. The effects of bullying are deep and devastating. It is important to monitor your teens’ online communications with other kids, and keep an ongoing dialogue about their activity there. If possible, connect with them on their social networks so that you see the comments as they are posted. Parents of all the children involved need to work together in positive ways to resolve the issues.

Becoming addicted to online video games. When your child needs more and more of something and it affects his ability to function normally, then he is addicted. We tend to think of drugs and alcohol addictions, but I have known teens and adults who are addicted to video games. For kids in school, their grades suffer, they are sleepy in school, and they frequently get into trouble because they are using their devices inappropriately in class. One defense for parents is to cut off the supply of funding for the games. To be really good at most of these games, the player must spend money to buy the advantage to win. If there is no money available, the game is not as much fun. Additionally, keeping the electronics away from them at night is important. If your child does not respond to these restrictions, he may need to see a psychologist who specializes in adolescent addiction.

Parenting teens is hard work. It is important to maintain diligent efforts to monitor your teen’s activities online in order to prevent serious consequences. Your child can perform poorly in school, have serious health consequences, or become addicted to online games. If you do not feel that you have adequate skills to know how to protect your child, sign up for a class or form an alliance with other parents of teens. Contact your child’s school to see if they are offering support, as well. Kids are healthier and happier when their parents work together with other parents and with the school.

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Impulsive Students Need Guidance When Online

The parents at our school sponsored a great workshop on social networking and keeping kids safe online. It was run by police at the local and state levels. As I took notes during their presentation, I kept thinking about the fact that some students are at more risk than others. Adolescents’ brains are not fully formed yet, and they do not have the ability to consistently make good decisions. Students with attention problems who are also impulsive can easily get into trouble.

The presenters at the workshop said more than once, “We hear people say that kids grow up faster these days than they used to. But they don’t. They just get exposed to a whole lot more a whole lot sooner. Monitor what your kids are doing online. Don’t worry about their privacy, because their safety is at stake.”

Here is some specific advice they gave parents.

  • Regarding posting hurtful statements: Teach your child that if he has to ask himself whether to post something, then the answer is that he should not post it! People are more willing to say things online that they would never say face-to-face. The presenter suggested to coach children to stand in front of a mirror and say out loud what they are about to post. Hopefully, they will hear it and realize how it might make the other person feel.
  • About sexual predators: These relationships develop over a period of time and can begin on social networking sites, online games played with unknown people, cell phones—essentially, anywhere children interact with people they do not personally know. Predators often spend a couple of years developing a trusting relationship with a child while they gather information bit by bit (where they go to school, what sports they play, their friends’ names, what time they get home from school). They keep this up until they have the information they need to make face-to-face contact. Read these tips on what signs might indicate your child is in trouble.
  • Regarding limits: Talk about internet safety with your child before problems develop. Set limits on when, where, and with whom she can be online. Build a trusting relationship, so she will come to you for help should she ever need it. Read Basic Internet Safety at NetSmartz to better understand what she needs to know.


I started this blog by mentioning that some children are at greater risk than others. If your child frequently makes impulsive decisions, you need to be even more diligent in monitoring his online activities. He might know better than to communicate with someone he doesn’t know, but he might do it without thinking about the consequences. He probably should not be in his bedroom online where you cannot monitor his activities. Remember, too, that you can keep his computer and smartphone with you when it’s time for bed (or unplug the wifi).

As parents, we cannot keep our children safe at all times. It is our responsibility, though, to teach them how to keep themselves safe. It is important to monitor online activities and educate ourselves about online safety. The FBI recommends the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children website. Why not explore their site together with your son or daughter?



> Talk With Your Child About the Internet

> 8 Steps to Peace of Mind Online

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Tips for Choosing the Best Websites and Apps for Kids

Parents often ask me what they should look for when deciding whether a website or app will be helpful to their children. If the purpose of the site or app is for kids to learn something, there are several important key elements. Evaluate each of the following:

  • How "busy” is the site? Is there so much activity on the screen that it is hard to decide what is important? Free websites and apps have to put advertisements on the screen in order to pay their expenses. As long as the advertisements are not inappropriate for children to see, this might not be a problem. But, if there are more ads than content, it is hard for kids to find what they are supposed to be watching and doing. In that case, not much learning happens.
  • Is the content accurate? I have seen apps that confuse kids more than teach them. I suggest that parents do the activities and play the games to make sure what the apps are teaching is correct.
  • Are the activities actually teaching the content, or are they hindering real learning? For example, if the purpose of the app is to teach cursive handwriting, playing a game that encourages you to write too quickly might mess up what was taught. Or, if the site penalizes you for answering too slowly, a child with slow processing will be frustrated playing it and will not learn from it.
  • Does your child like to use the app or website? It should be easy to figure out how to use and be fun to do. If not, look for another. There are millions of websites and apps available for little or no cost. I like to look at educator websites to get ideas for good places to go.
  • Does the app or website provide appropriate feedback for right and wrong answers? The app should provide help for wrong answers so children can figure out what the right answer is.

It takes a little effort to find the best websites or apps that promote learning, but the time is well spent when you find a great learning tool for your child.


> For Students, Parents, and Families, There Are 26 Tops Apps for That

> Necessary Skills for Students in the Digital Age

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Keep Communication Lines Open on Mobile Safety

As parents, we want to convey the right messages about mobile safety so our kids understand the importance of behaving responsibly when using smartphones.

But these conversations can be tough. Did you know two out of five kids say their parents haven’t talked to them about mobile safety?

Sometimes kids don’t want “a lecture,’’ and sometimes parents feel they aren’t being heard. One option is to have a conversation with your child using the Family Guide to Mobile Safety, a free downloadable guide SchoolFamily.com developed in partnership with AT&T.

One strategy: Pick a quiet time over the weekend when no one feels rushed, sit down with your child, and use the information in the guide as key talking points.

Also, parents can check out the new Mobile Families resources on our site, where there is a collection of related articles about such important issues as screen time and how to best select and use technology and apps.

You can download the entire eight page Family Guide or download individual printables. The individual printables include:

  • The Family Mobile Safety Agreement. Parents and kids can discuss appropriate mobile phone behavior, agree to follow the rules, and sign the document together.
  • Is your child ready for a cell phone? A guide to help determine better when it makes sense to make this important purchase.
  • How to behave online. This document gives parents talking points on what it means to be a good digital citizen.
  • What’s with all the texting? This guide gives information about what kids should or should never text.
  • Establishing ground rules. This document has pointers for parents on how to set rules for phone use.
  • Apps: Where to start. This guide give suggestions so parents can make better app purchasing decisions.
  • Cell phone checklist: Gives a list of steps on how to navigate the first mobile phone purchase.
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School Shootings: Help Your Child Process Tragedy in the News

Our hearts and thoughts go out to the residents of Chardon, Ohio after the tragic shootings at Chardon High School on Monday, Feb. 27. As of this writing, three of the five teenage victims have succumbed to their injuries. TJ Lane, identified as the shooter, reportedly told police he’d been bullied at the school.


Tragedies like this raise myriad questions and can trigger grief reactions from children—and from parents as well. How should your handle your child’s confused feelings? How do you reassure your child that her school is safe (assuming you think it is safe)? Does her school have a strong anti-bullying program, and does it go far enough?


Perhaps the most pressing question for parents is how to help their child comprehend and interpret such tragic, frightening news. Our SchoolFamily.com experts say that parents should begin by managing, as much as possible, what their children see and read about the event in the media—on television, in newspapers, via the Internet, and on social media sites. While children may be reading at an advanced level, few are emotionally prepared to handle details of tragic and catastrophic events. Read more about this in Help Manage Anxiety About Current Events, on SchoolFamily.com. And regardless of the cause, parents can help their children handle overall anxiety by reading Help Kids Learn to Manage Stress.


What if your child is being bullied? Or—what if your child is the bully? Start by reading our articles on bullying prevention, which include information about preventing your child from being a bully’s victim, to teaching your child empathy.  To protect your child from online bullying known as cyberbullying, learn the red flags to watch for in this SchoolFamily.com guest blog post by bullying prevention expert Dr. Michele Borba.


If your suspect (or know) that your child is a bully, read the no-nonsense tips about what to do in this two-part guest blog post by Annie Fox, author, online educator, and host of Cruel’s Not Cool, an anti-bullying online forum.


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Should Principals Have Control of Students' "Off Campus" activity?

Most schools have rules for how students should behave while on school grounds, and many have a written code of behavior that students—and occasionally parents—are required to sign.


It's also long been the case that the off school-property behavior of students who hold leadership positions, play sports, or participate in extra-curricular clubs or organizations is held to a more rigorous standard. If the captain of the field hockey team is caught at a party where alcohol is present, for example, she is typically disciplined, often in the form of lost practice and game time.


However, many argue that legislators in Indiana have gone too far by voting to give school principals virtual 24/7 oversight of students and their activities.  A bill that received recent approval from the Indiana House of Representatives gives broad power to principals, allowing them to discipline any student for off-campus behavior that reflects badly on the school—in the principal's opinion.


Called the “Restoring School Discipline Act”—but referred to by some critics as the "Principal in Your Bedroom" bill—the legislation removes the “unlawful activity” clause, which is currently state law, thereby allowing principals to suspend or expel any student in grades K-12, for behavior or speech that could "reasonably be considered to be an interference with school purposes or an educational function," or when necessary to "restore order or protect persons on school property."


As vague as those conditions sound, the bill's sponsor, Republican State Rep. Eric Koch, insists the bill is ultimately about preventing cyber bullying (note that the term does not appear anywhere in the actual bill). “In limiting grounds for suspension and expulsion to only ‘unlawful’ conduct," Koch reportedly told a local newspaper, "current [state] law ties the hands of school officials to effectively deal with dangerous and disruptive behavior, including cyber bullying,”


Those against the bill, which must be approved by the Indiana Senate to become law, say in theory it could be used against students who speak out about something their principal deems detrimental to the school. Likewise, students who participate in an activity their principal feels isn't in keeping with the school's culture—say, a political rally; a particular summer job; even a student’s choice of attire outside of school—could be suspended or expelled.


Do you think this legislation goes too far? Once outside the school setting, do you think students should be beyond the purview of their school principal?


UPDATE: The bill has since been amended.  If it is approved by the Indiana Senate, a 14-member commission will be formed to study the issue further. However, the House must also approve the amended version.


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Are Your Teens Using "SelfControl"?

At SchoolFamily.com, we offer parents lots of information about keeping kids focused on their schoolwork, and staying (or getting) motivated. We also offers ways to help parents set limits on the time their kids spend in front of a screen, be it a computer screen, a video-game screen, or that of a cellphone.


Now, it seems, some teens have found a way do some self-limiting all on their own.


An app called SelfControl, developed by an artist named Steve Lambert, allows users to completely block online items they don’t want to be distracted by, such as their email accounts, websites, and, in particular, social media sites. The app allows them to block access to these accounts for a specified amount of time—and lots of teens are using it. Best of all, they say, it can’t be hacked and opened.


“You cannot unlock it once it’s on,” said a 16-year old girl I recently spoke with. Asked why—and when—she uses the app, she explained, “I put it on for two hours when I’m doing homework, and it blocks my email, Tumblr and some other websites.”


How does SelfControl “know” which sites or email accounts to block? “You put things on a ‘blacklist,’” the teen explained, “and those are the programs that are blocked.” 


The app’s icon is a black spade with a skull and crossbones in the center. While it’s by far the most popular self-limiting app out there, it’s not the only one. Teens—and adults, for that matter—can use SelfRestraint, Quiet, and StayFocused, to name just a few.


While it’s not necessarily a bad thing that teenagers are using these high-tech tools to limit their own online behavior, it’s disconcerting that the need for such software even exists.


Oh, and as for that teenage girl I recently spoke with? She’s my daughter. Are any of your kids using these apps?



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The Red Flags of Cyber Bullying

SchoolFamily.com guest blogger Dr. Michele Borba, Ph.D. is an expert and author on issues involving children and teens, parenting, bullying, and moral development. Her work aims to help strengthen children’s character and resilience; build strong families; create compassionate and just school cultures; and reduce peer cruelty.


There are red flags parents should watch for that might indicate your child is being cyber bullied. Here’s what to look for—and what to do.


Over the last year, we’ve read about horrific tragedies—bullycides—that appear to have been prompted by relentless peer bullying. One child tragically ending his or her young life due to vicious peer cruelty is one child is too many.


So let’s get savvy about electronic cruelty and the new digital age our kids are experiencing.


Online bullying is especially hurtful. Those horrid, vicious, untrue comments, with a quick click of a button, hit cyberspace. There is no telling how many other peers are hearing or reading those cold-blooded attacks.


Can you imagine being the recipient of such hate? Can you imagine if your child was that recipient?


The truth is those clicks are happening all too often, which is why parents must get educated.


Our first step to turn this around is to understand why cyberbullying is, and then recognize possible warning signs.


These are serious lessons — they might save a child. That’s my hope.


What is cyberbullying?


Cyberbullying is an electronic form of communication that uses cyber-technology  (the internet) or digital media (Facebook and other social media sites) to hurt, threaten, embarrass, annoy, blackmail or otherwise target another minor.


Every adult who interacts with kids—parents, educators, librarians, police, pediatricians, coaches, child care givers—must get educated about this lethal new form of bullying so they can find ways to help stop this.


One reason for such a dramatic increase in cyber-abuse is that it’s just so much easier to be cruel when you don’t have to do lash out with vicious insinuations face to face, and can instead do so anonymously!


Where we once thought we just had to protect children from adult predators using the Internet, but now we need to shield kids from one another.


Cyber-bullying is real, and incidents are happening at an increasing rate. Here’s a reality check:  National surveys by online safety expert Parry Aftab estimate that 85 percent of 12 and 13-year olds have had experience with cyber bullying. And 53 percent say they have been bullied online.


Many experts confirm that the psychological effects on our children can be as devastating, and may be even more so, than traditional bullying. Research proves that when kids are left unsupervised and without behavior expectations traditional bullying thrives. And we may not be doing as good a job as we think.


Another survey found that while 93 percent of parents feel they have a good idea of what their kids are doing on the Internet, 41 percent of our kids say they don’t share with us what they do or where they go online.


Open up that dialogue and listen!


Red flag warning signs of cyber bullying

As parents, we must do a better job of tuning into our kids. Read the warning signs of cyber bullying (below) and then talk with other parents, teachers, babysitters, counselors, and child workers about them. Print out the warnings and give them to coaches, Scout leaders, Boys and Girls Club leaders, doctors, school officials, and to teens and tweens. Send the list to the local newspaper to print. Ask your child’s school to post the list on their website. Get active and get your community involved. Here’s what to watch out for:


  • Your son is hesitant to be online or unexpectedly stops or avoids using the computer


  • Your daughter is nervous when an instant message, text, or email appears


  • Your son is visibly upset, angry, or depressed after using the computer or his cell phone


  • Your daughter hides or clears the computer screen or her cell phone screen when you enter or doesn’t want to talk about online activity


  • Your son starts using the computer when you’re not in the room


  • Your daughter keeps going back and forth to check the computer screen in shorter spurts


  • Your son withdraws from friends; wants to avoid school or peer activities; is uneasy about going outside in general; an/or pulls away from family members


  • Your daughter is suddenly sullen, evasive withdrawn, or has a marked change in personality or behavior


  • Your son has trouble sleeping, loss of appetite, is excessively moody, cries easily, or seems depressed


  • Suspicious phone calls, e-mails, and packages arrives at your home


  • Your child has a drop in academic performance or falls behind in schoolwork


 A key that you shouldn’t overlook is a sudden change—something that isn’t t your child’s “normal” behavior—that lasts daily, for at least two weeks. But even then, use your instincts! If you are concerned, don’t wait—get your child some help!


If it’s not cyber bullying …


What if these signs I’ve mentioned aren’t happening because your child is being cyber bullied? Regardless they clearly warrant looking into, as something is amiss with your child. It’s up to you to find out what’s going on. Dig deeper. Have a conference with your child’s teacher, coach, counselor, pediatrician, or seek the help of a trained mental health professional. The two saddest words I hear from parents are “If only …” Get help!


Don’t expect that your child will come and tell you about any harassment that might be taking place. Studies show that as our kids get older the likelihood they will come to us and “tell” declines even more. The top reason? Kids say they aren’t telling adults because “The adult didn’t listen or believe me when I did tell.” Sigh.


If you suspect your child’s friend or his peer is cyber-bullied, report it to school authorities and police.


I carry a photo of a young Canadian boy—a precious sixth grader—who ended his life because of bullying. His father gave me his son’s photo and asked me to promise to keep educating parents about the dangers of bullying. I promised that dad I would keep going and I’ve carried that photo for 10 years. It breaks me apart every time I look at it. So remember: Listen! Tune in! Believe!



Dr. Michele Borba, Ph.D., is an expert and author on issues involving children and teens, parenting, bullying, and moral development. Her work aims to help strengthen children’s character and resilience; build strong families; create compassionate and just school cultures; and reduce peer cruelty. Her research-based advice is culled from a career of working with more than 1 million parents and educators worldwide. She is the author of 22 parenting and educational books, and hosts Reality Check, a daily blog at https://www.micheleborba.com/blog/. Dr. Borba lives in Palm Springs, CA with her husband, and has three grown sons. Tips in this blog post were adapted by Dr. Borba from her book “The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries.”

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My Daughter’s On Facebook; What Are The Rules?

When it was time for my daughter to start using Facebook, we read articles, talked to Internet safety experts, and researched Facebook terms of service (TOS) rules for children. (Did you know children younger than 13 aren't allowed to have an account, according to Facebook’s TOS?) Then we sat down with her and explained the rules, both the Facebook rules and our “family” rules. Here they are:


  • Your parents will know your password


  • You will be Facebook “friends” with your parents


  • Your privacy settings will always be set to the highest level


  • You will only have friends on your account who you know in real life and who are only one year older or one year younger (to adjust as she gets older)


  • Mom is allowed to read your private messages



And just like that, she took off flying, learning the ins and outs of Facebook behavior faster than she could whip out her mascara wand.


But the thing is… no one tells Mom how she should act on social networks once her kid joins in the fun! I mean, wham!—you gotta be careful what you say from now on. That funny inside joke your girlfriend shared? Unless it’s PG13 (or less) you’ll need to censor how you respond and whether you will re-share it. Maybe you’ll want to change how your updates are viewed: just friends or allow friends of friends? (Can your daughter’s friends see your updates and photos? Um, WEIRD.) And have you made a decision about whether your child is allowed to  “friend” teachers?


I have no idea what I’m supposed to do when her friends want to be “friends” with me? Should I friend all of her friends? Where do I draw the line?


Isn’t it all a bit strange?


In case you’re wondering, there aren’t social media “parenting” experts to contact, or Facebook “parent how-to’s.” Nope, you get to wing it and hope for the best.


My husband, however, bravely marches into her social networking world. He “likes”  a post of hers here and there, and finds ways to joke with her on her turf. Me, not so much; I prefer to let her do her thing and watch from afar. That’s starting to change though…


We are gradually crossing paths more often. Recently, I suggested a yummy cookie dough truffle recipe she should make. (I mean what’s a teen for if not gourmet chocolate-dipped treat-making?) Later she responded to an update of mine, saying that a clarification was needed (ahem) after I’d posted a fabulous photo of cupcakes. She wanted to be sure everyone knew that she was the actual cupcake decorator (but I swear I baked them!).


Maybe there’s something a mom can learn about her relationship with her daughter via social media—who would have guessed? I’ve observed how my daughter is careful of others’ feelings even in the online sphere. And yes, she is definitely boy crazy—OY! But I’ve also seen her humor and creative intelligence blossom and I don’t think I’d have seen that otherwise. And I think she watches how I handle my relationships with my husband, my family, and my friends. I’d like to know what she sees and what she’s learned about her mother via this thing called Facebook.


What are you learning about your kids while watching them play in the social media world? Have you learned any parenting lessons? ‘Cuz I’d love to hear your tips!


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Federal Study on Bullying Examines States' School Policies

This week, you may have heard about results of a new studying on bullying released by the U.S. Department of Education. The study was commissioned by the feds to gain information about the existence and strength of bullying laws and policies in schools districts in all 50 states.


The results of the study are decidedly mixed. While most states and school districts today have some form of anti-bullying measures, some don't go far enough—or carry much weight when it comes to enforcement or punishment. 


“Every state should have effective bullying prevention efforts in place to protect children inside and outside of school," said Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, in a statement issued Dec. 6 when the study was released. “This report reveals that while most states have enacted legislation around this important issue, a great deal of work remains to ensure adults are doing everything possible to keep our kids safe.”


Called the Analysis of State Bullying Laws and Policies, the 200+ page pdf of the report is available here for those who'd like to tackle the government tome. For the rest of us, SchoolFamily.com has done the heavy lifting, culling the most important details and presenting them here for our readers.


The defining moment for the beginning of state bullying legislation and school district policy on bullying began right after the horrific shootings at Columbine High School in 1999. In fact, due to the events at Columbine—and in relation to a local bullying-related suicide—the state of Georgia became the first state to pass legislation requiring schools to implement bullying prevention programs. From there, the following breakdown shows how others states have responded with their own policies, according to the study:

  • From 1999 to 2010: More than 120 bills enacted by state legislatures either introduced or amended education or criminal statutes to address bullying and related behaviors in schools.
  • In 2010: 21 new bills were passed.
  •  In 2011: 8 additional bills were passed as of April 30, 2011.
  •  From 2006 to 2010: 35 states enacted new laws regarding cyber bullying.
  •  Only two states—Montana and South Dakota—remain without bullying laws (Note: At the time of the study, Hawaii and Michigan were both listed as states not having anti-bullying laws; however, Hawaii passed bullying legislation in July 2011, and earlier this month, Michigan did as well). 

It’s also worth noting that as of April 2011, Texas was the only state without any requirement for schools to create bullying or harassment policies. That changed in June 2011, when Gov. Rick Perry signed legislation requiring Texas public school districts to create and adopt formal bullying policies.  


Key Findings of the Study: What's Up With Bullying Laws in States?

  • 46 states have some type of bullying laws—but three of those states prohibit bullying without actually defining the behavior that’s prohibited.
  • 36 states prohibit cyber bullying
  • 13 states specify that schools have jurisdiction over off-campus behavior if it creates a hostile school environment.
  • States with the most expansive anti-bullying legislation have school districts with the most expansive anti-bullying policies. However, there were some school districts located in states with less expansive laws that expanded their policies beyond the state’s minimum legal expectations.


School Violence and Student Safety

The Department of Education’s study noted that the most recent survey on school violence and student safety is one conducted by the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). That survey measured the frequency of bullying at schools as reported by school administrators, and came up with these findings:

  • 39 percent of middle school administrators reported bullying took place on a daily or weekly basis
  • 20 percent of elementary and high school administrators reported bullying took place on a daily or weekly basis
  • 19 percent of middle schools and 18 percent of high schools reported daily or weekly problems with cyber bullying, either at school or away from school.

The NCES survey also measured how often students ages 12-18 were the target of bullying during the past school year:

  • 21 percent of said they had been made fun of by their peers
  • 18 percent said they’d been the subject of rumors
  • 11 percent said they’d been pushed, shoved, tripped, or spit on
  • 6 percent said they had been threatened with harm


Cyber Bullying

The NCES survey reported that 4 percent of students age 12-18 reported having been cyber bullied in the year prior to the study. In addition, according to other related studies, up to 20 percent of all students age 11–18 may have been cyber bullied at some time. And in a 2010 study, the same percentage of students—20 percent—reported having been involved in the cyber bullying of other youths.  


Being Teased and “Ignored On Purpose”

School surveys of elementary and middle school students indicate that bullying is higher among those in elementary and middle school. Of more than 11,000 elementary and middle school students surveyed, 61 percent of girls and 60 percent of boys reported they’d been “teased in a mean way,” while 22 percent of girls and 33 percent of boys said they’d been threatened with physical harm. An ostracizing form of bullying—being “ignored on purpose”—was reported by 46 percent of girls and 31 percent of boys.


Effects of Bullying

Earlier studies show a correlation between bullying and poor psychosocial adjustment in children, according to the Analysis of State Bullying Laws and Policies. A 2001 study showed that students who were bullied had difficulty making friends, experienced poorer relationships with peers, and felt an increased sense of loneliness.

Other research shows that bullied students have increased anxiety levels, psychosomatic symptoms, and experience higher rates of eating disorders and aggressive-impulsive behavior problems. Youths who are bullied have also been shown to be at greater risk of developing poor self-esteem, depression, and suicidal thoughts and attempts. Studies show that children who are chronically bullied have lower academic achievement and higher rates of truancy and disciplinary problems.

For complete details on the Analysis of State Bullying Laws and Policies study, visit the study at ed.gov.


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Survey says sexting is less prevelant than originally believed

The Internet has been abuzz this week with news that the practice of sexting—kids texting naked photos or videos of themselves or others via cell phone—is nowhere near as rampant as we’d all been led to believe.

The news is the result of a national survey conducted by researchers at the Crimes Against Children Research Center (CCRC) at the University of New Hampshire, and was reported Monday in Pediatrics: The Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

The four authors of the survey, which is called “Prevalence and Characteristics of Youth Sexting: A National Study,” concluded that making or sending sexual images is “… far from being a normative behavior” among teens and younger children.

However, the study found that while the rate of sexting is lower than initially believed, children and teens need to be better informed about the “legal consequences of sexting,” and, more immediately, what to do if they receive such an image.

Has your teen received any sexting images? Might be good to ask. It also might be good for you to refresh your Internet safety knowledge by reading SchoolFamily.com's Internet Safety Tips for Parents.

Conducted by phone, the CCRC survey included 1,560 young people, ages 10-17, who use the Internet. Just 2 ½ percent said they’d made nude or nearly nude photos or videos of themselves, and of that figure, only 1 percent said the images were “sexually explicit” (i.e. images of breasts, genitals, or buttocks).

However, far more students—7 percent—reported receiving nude or nearly nude images of other youth, while 5.9 percent said they’d received images that were sexually explicit.

Researchers also found that few students who reported receiving such images had then distributed them.

The study was conducted by Kimberly J. Mitchell, Ph.D., a psychologist at UNH; David Finkelhor, Ph.D., UNH sociology professor and director of the CCCRC; Lisa M. Jones, Ph.D., research assistant and professor of psychology at the CCRC; and Janis Wolak, JD, a senior researcher at the CCRC.

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For all who've been bullied ...

SchoolFamily.com's Guest Blogger this week is Rebecca Mooney, M.Ed., the Executive Director of the Center for Education in Violence Prevention based in Melrose, MA. The Center offers comprehensive bullying prevention training for staff, students, and parents.

Several weeks ago my agency sponsored a bullying prevention seminar featuring young adult novelist Megan Kelley Hall.


Megan has become a champion in the campaign against bullying, and has co-edited a new anthology titled, “Dear Bully: 70 Authors Tell Their Stories.” If you haven’t thought about middle school (or junior high, as the case may be) in some time, trust me —this book will bring it all back.  The essays are intensely personal and compelling, written from the perspective of victims, bullies and bystanders.


One of my favorites is by Lara Zeises, a self-described “fatty” growing up.  She tells the story of being teased relentlessly about her size by two boys throughout middle and high school, her cheeks burning with shame as they laughed and called her cruel names.  She actually changed schools and didn’t see them again, but still carried the pain, humiliation, and anger into her adult life. Recently, she decided to search for her former tormentors. After finding one of them through Facebook, she summoned all her courage and told him off. She explained how damaging the harassment had been—and what a jerk he was—but that despite it all, she was now a successful author. So there! He wrote back that if he did, in fact, do those awful things to her he was truly sorry, but said he actually didn’t remember her. 

To me this story is such a vivid and poignant illustration of one of the points we teach in our programs for students, staff and parents: Bullying really is about the bully’s need for empowerment, and the victim can be anyone. The bully picks the easiest target, and uses the victim to gain status, power, and popularity. Based on this knowledge, we honestly tell bullying victims, “It’s about them, not you.”


Like many victims, however, Lara did not receive this message when she most needed it. Consequently, she was profoundly affected over a significant period of her life. It’s sad that no one realized what was happening and intervened so that she didn’t have to carry the burden alone.  If they had, it might have alleviated a lot of pain, and helped her move on much sooner.


SchoolFamily.com's Guest Blogger this week is Rebecca Mooney, M.Ed., the Executive Director of the Center for Education in Violence Prevention based in Melrose, MA. The Center offers comprehensive bullying prevention training for staff, students, and parents. Over the last 14 years, Rebecca has spearheaded and implemented a range of violence prevention programs in schools and the community, including bullying prevention, domestic and teen dating violence prevention, mentoring, peer mediation and peer leadership programs. She has served as a trainer, panelist, and guest speaker on bullying prevention and teen dating violence for conferences sponsored by the Middlesex District Attorney’s Office, Child Advocacy Center of Boston, Riverside Counseling Center, and Children’s Hospital Boston, among others. In 2004 Rebecca was honored with the Unsung Heroine Award by the Massachusetts Commission on Women for her contributions to the field of violence prevention. She lives in Melrose with her husband and has two young adult daughters.


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Learning Disabilities Increase Risk in the Cyber World

Boy visiting a social networkThe number one concern of most parents is keeping their children safe and healthy. The Internet, smart phones, and cell phones have added a level of concern that parents just a few years ago did not have to worry about! Some children are more at risk than others. Children with learning disabilities or attention problems often make the wrong decisions while online. Others who have trouble interpreting social cues when face-to-face, will have double the trouble when in the cyber world. They may be more easily tricked into giving away information that puts them in danger from child predators. (See Social Skills and Learning Disabilities.] They may be more at risk of becoming a bully or being bullied online, as well. [See Poor Social Skills Can Lead to Bullying.]

Because parents cannot be everywhere all the time, children often know more about the cyber world than their parents, and children often do things impulsively without considering the consequences, I recommend the following.

  • Educate yourself and educate your children about cyber safety.
  • Monitor your children’s cyber activities the same way you monitor other things they do.
  • Online activities should take place in the family room rather than in the bedroom, and cell phones and laptops should stay with parents after bedtime.
  • Understand the types of technology your children use. Learn how to text message and to check the messages your children send and receive. It is your responsibility to do this and when your children object just tell them that you have to, you are their parent!
  • Be a part of your child’s social networks, especially if they are involved with chat rooms where child predators tend to "hang out." (I do not recommend allowing children in chat rooms.) If children know their parents are in the same social network and one of their online "friends," they are less likely to write things without thinking about the consequences. One of my students said recently, "I could never do that because my mother would see it." That is excellent parenting!
  • Make use of the excellent resources to help you learn how to keep your children safe. There are some very powerful videos you might watch with your children here.. I especially recommend watching the one called "Irreversible" as it points out the importance of preventing bullying online. Netsmartz and Safekids are two excellent sites for parent resources. Another excellent article to read is Internet Safety Tips for Parents.
  • If you think your parent’s organization might be interested in sponsoring an Internet Safety Night, check out this site for a free planning kit.

Educating yourself and your children about the dangers involved with technology goes a long way in helping to keep them safe in the cyber world. This is even more important for children who struggle with learning disabilities, because the risk to them may be even greater.

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Get Moving and Do Better in School

Last week was school vacation here in Massachusetts.  One afternoon I went to lunch with a few friends who were lamenting how difficult it is to get their kids outside and moving. Of course the conversation turned to limiting TV, computer and gaming time.  During the course of the conversation there were times when we each checked a text message or two... it could be the kids, right? Then it hit me. Here we are complaining about how our kids are being couch potatoes when in some ways, many of us contribute to living a sedentary life style. When you have down time with family, do you watch TV or movies... or do you go for walk or visit the gym together? When you get together with other families, is it all about food or do you go do something active together like snow tubing or bicycling? It's all about choices right? This revelation made me realize as parents we need to judge less and model more ... and make healthier choices.

That's why I was very excited to learn that School Family is partnering with Let's Move! 

Let’s Move! is a comprehensive initiative, launched by the First Lady, dedicated to solving the problem of obesity within a generation, so that children born today will grow up healthier and able to pursue their dreams.


What's nice about this program is that it gives you a framework for moving towards a healthier way of living. We have tons of new tools in our Print and Use Tools section to get your family involved in the Let's Move initiative: 

Let's Move! Take Action Schools Guide

Let's Move! Take Action Parents Guide

Let's Move! Grocery List Template

Let's Move! Family Activities Guide

Let's Move! Healthy Family Calendar

Let's Move! Screen Time Log

Let's Move! Goal Tracker

Research indicates that kids who get regular exercise do better in school. How's that for an added incentive? Print out the material, set some goals, and get moving! 

What does your family do to keep active together? How do you inspire your kids to get exercise? How would you like to change your family's  life style?

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Your T(w)een's School Social Life - When to Step in and When to Step Back

Teenagers are social beings. Often, the social scene during this time is, well, complicated. Friendship issues, big and small, can be all-consuming for a t(w)een.  And sometimes, friendship drama can get in the way of school success. So, what’s a parent to do? 

We are excited to let you know that Annie Fox,  award-winning author and expert on parenting t(w)eens, will be joining us for a live Facebook chat* on Friday, January  14th from 1- 2pm EST to answer your questions like:

  • Our daughter is more interested in the social scene that studying, what do we do?
  • I don’t like the new friends my son has made at school this year—what should I do?
  • My tween is obsessed with Facebook and texting and it’s getting in the way of her doing her homework, should I step in and take them away or let her suffer natural consequences? 
  • My son is being verbally harassed by one of his classmates every morning at his locker but doesn’t want me to intervene – what should I do?

Annie Fox, M.Ed., has a degree in Human Development and Family Studies and completed her master’s in Education at the State University of New York at Cortland. After a few years teaching in the classroom, computers changed her life and she began to explore how technology could be used to empower teens. Annie has since contributed to many online projects, including as creator, designer, and writer for The InSite—a Web site for teens taking on life’s challenges. She also answers questions for the Hey Terra! feature as an online adviser for teens. Her Internet work has contributed to the publication of multiple books, including Too Stressed to Think? and the Middle School Confidential™ series. Annie also is available for public speaking engagements and workshop presentations on teen and parenting issues. Most recently Annie has started an anti-bullying campaign called “Cruel is Not Cool.”

Here are some of Annie's past guest posts on our site:

My Child- a Bully?! Part 1 

My Child- a Bully?! Part 2

School Bullies- Some Thoughts to Ponder over the Summer

* For those of you who have not done Live Facebook Chats - fear not! They are easy and fun to participate in. Just head over to our Facebook page at the time of the chat: Friday, January 14 at 1pm ET. You'll see the conversation starting right there on the wall. Jump in or ask your own question. The only thing different you'll need to do is hit your refresh button (the counter clock-wise circular arrow in your tool bar) every few minutes. That way, you'll be sure to stay current on the conversation as it unfolds.  If you prefer to submit a question or two anonymously ahead of time, just email me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Look forward to chatting with you!

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School Bullies: Some Things to Ponder Over the Summer

Excited to have Annie Fox as a guest blogger this week. Annie Fox, M.Ed. is an award winning author, educator, and online adviser for parents and teens since 1997. Check out her new anti-bullying forum, Cruel’s Not Cool!


A master teacher once pointed out to a group of student teachers: "If you’re not modeling what you teach or what you say you want kids to learn, then you sure as hell are teaching something else!"

Bullying is a systemic problem. Put downs, gossip, snarkiness are all pretty much the air we breathe. Yet when we see or read about mean-kid behavior we’re all righteously stunned. "They tormented the girl so badly that she committed suicide!? Then the perpetrators actually posted more cruel comments on the victim’s Facebook memorial page!!!"

Considering what passes for entertainment and bonding around the water cooler, the sidelines at the game, the teacher lounge, the TV, the blogosphere, why are we surprised? It would be more surprising if kids growing up in our Culture of Cruelty turned out to be something other than cruel.

I know it’s harsh to think that the enemy is us... but we might as well own it because until we do we are cluelessly fueling the problem. And any attempts to minimize school bullying, turn a blind eye, or infer that it’s just "kids being kids" misses the point and blows yet another opportunity to turn the ship around.

Blackberry vines have rooted amongst my rose bushes. If I simply curse them or pluck a leaf here and there, that won’t stop the spread of vines (which will totally take over if I permit it). I’ve got to get in there on my hands and knees, deal with the thorns and dig out those suckers and all their damn roots.

Same applies to bullying. Not only are parents and teachers responsible for rooting out malevolent behavior between kids whenever we see it, hear about it or sense it. But we adults who live and work with kids have the moral obligation of watching our own mouths and attitudes... all the time. Otherwise "Respect, Compassion and Social Responsibility" is just a school motto and the dirty truth is that we’re teaching something else.

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Do you Know What Your Kids are Doing Online?

Cyber bullying and internet safety. It's all over the news these days. As parents, what’s sometimes scary in the big internet world is the feeling of: “I don't know what I don't know”. Case in point, I just came across an article in the New York Times that talks about a new social networking site I never heard of. Apparently this new site has brought cyber bullying to a whole new level. I follow twitter, read a lot of articles about kids and technology … Why didn't I know about this? I guess my kids aren't on it, but that doesn't mean that they're not going to be on it next week.

So, how do we keep our kids safe and stay on top of what’s happening in their world? I think there are a couple of things we can do besides keeping an open dialogue with our kids (because let’s face it – our kids don’t tell us everything):

  • find a couple of good sites that talk about internet safety and provide current information and tips* and subscribe to their feed or check back regularly.
  • attend internet safety and cyber bullying seminars offered by your school and community.
  • participate in the social network sites so you know what your kids are up to.
  • and most importantly, talk to the parents of your kid’s friends. A lot. What are they seeing and hearing? Also, talk to your friends who have older kids. Know what's coming. 

Social networking has replaced the telephone for our kids. This is the world they/we live in -- some may not like it or understand it, but it is the reality. By keeping our ear to the ground and having an open dialog with other parents we can stay informed without being alarmists. One thing is for sure: the quickest way to get your kids to stop confiding in you about technology or anything else, is to over react (be an alarmist).

 How do stay ahead of the technology curve? How do you monitor what your kids are doing online? Love to hear from you. 

 * Internet Safety Information and Resources

On Schoolfamily.com:




Other sites:




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Neat Video Competition Focused on Online Safety

Just wanted to give you a heads up to a neat contest that one of our partners, Trend Micro, is running. Their “What’s Your Story” contest invites anyone age 13 and up to grab a camcorder and talk about what being safe and smart online means to them.

What I think is cool about the contest is that it empowers teens to have a voice about internet safety. As parents we are always talking to our teens about the importance of being safe online. Sometimes you wonder whether what you are saying is heard as blah, blah, blah. A chance to win $10,000 may just be the ticket to get our teens to be thoughtful about what internet safety really means and talk about it. Also, the fact that the “What’s Your Story” contest is opened to anyone 13 and older offers an opportunity for parents and teachers to collaborate with teens on this project. Lots of great possibilities.

Here are the details:

Entries are due April 30th, 2010


  • One Grand Prize Winner will win $10,000 cash!
  • Four Runners Up category winners will win $500 each.

To enter: Complete the online submission form and upload your short original video at https://whatsyourstory.trendmicro.com on one of the following topics:

  • Keeping a good reputation online
  • Staying clear of unwanted contact (such as harassment, cyberbullying or online predators)
  • Enjoying legal and age-appropriate content
  • Preventing cybercriminals from stealing your personal info

Good luck and have fun!

Oh and helpful Internet safety info from Trend Micro you might want to look at:

Safety Tips for Social Networking
General Internet Safety Tips for Families
Safety Tips on Cyberbullying

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What Is “Too Much” When It Comes to Young Children And Consumer Electronics?

National news programs recently reported that the amount of time American children spend watching TV, playing video games, using small electronic devices, or surfing on the computer has increased to almost 8 hours a day!

I certainly support and use technology to enhance teaching. (For example, during our “Whale” unit in science my students got to hear the actual sounds of Humpback Whales via our classroom computer!) As a teaching tool it can’t be beat. Some of the other benefits are:

  • Many quality games that practice problem solving or reading skills.
  • Working with your child on the computer or playing an interactive video game is an opportunity to do something together.
  • Playing electronic games can help enhance fine motor and eye/hand coordination skills.

However, as a classroom teacher, I see the detrimental effects that overuse of electronic devices can have on young students. Some electronic activities can have a negative effect on social, emotional and physical development:

  • Playing a video game can’t substitute for a great neighborhood backyard game of “Hide and Seek.” Less physical play has led to a rise in childhood obesity.
  • Too much time spent on electronics can have a negative impact on your child’s sleep habits, and ability to sustain attention in school.
  • Playing video games, by one’s self, increases isolation and erodes social confidence.

Parents need to find the balance between appropriate use of electronics and overuse. Choose games that enhance learning, are age appropriate, and can be played with others. Limit time spent on personal devices to teach “consumer responsibility” while your child is young.

School Family note: We have a great Screen Time Tracker available in our Print and Use Tools section.
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Do you allow your children to watch TV or play on the computer before doing their homework?

Yes - 31.6%
Sometimes - 25.4%
No - 37.4%

Total votes: 4919
The voting for this poll has ended on: June 25, 2016