Parents learn how to react if child is cyberbullied

Michigan Attorney General's office offers parents in Plymouth Canton advice about how to teach children dangers on the Internet

PLYMOUTH, Mich. - Twenty percent of children who are cyberbullied commit suicide. That is a statistic the Michigan Attorney General's office wants parents to know about before it's too late.

Parents who have children in the Plymouth Canton Community Schools district attended a workshop at West Middle School to learn more about the dangers their children face when they use the Internet.

The presentation was made by Attorney General Bill Schuette's office as part of his cyber safety initiative.

"We want these kids talking, we don't want these kids to end their lives early," said Nancy Burgerson who works for the Consumer Protection Division of Schuette's office.

Burgerson told parents that they are the internet provider.   They pay for the internet service, they can take it away from their children.  She said children need to be aware of that.

"Right now it's pretty limited, he uses it for school primarily and for playing a game, but I see that changing, so that is why I want to become more educated on it," said Jennifer D'Angelo who has a son in sixth grade and daughter in kindergarten.

"I worry about bullying because, you know, kids are sensitive. The littlest thing can have a really big impact on how your kid deals with stuff," said Stephanie Johnson who has a child in sixth grade and a child in eighth grade.

The Michigan Attorney General's office lists the following signs a child could be cyberbullied:
They stop using computers or other devices.
They are anxious when they get text messages or e-mails.
They withdraw from family and friends.

The signs a child might be a bully include switching his or her computer screen or closing programs when parents are nearby,  they are distraught when they can't use the computer and avoid talking about what their online activity.

Schuette's office said 29 percent of kids don't tell anyone they're being cyber bullied and 81 percent of kids cyberbully someone because they think it's funny.

West Middle School principal Clint Smiley said are kids getting the message about the consequences of bullying.

"Both the legal ramifications and danger they do to other kids by doing that, and so it might be trending down," said Smiley.

If a child is being bullied, Burgerson said parents need to document what happened.  

Parents should keep copies of e-mails, text messages, and chat conversations.  They should also stop all communication with the bully immediately, even contact the service provider.   Also let the school know what is happening, call the police and contact an attorney.

Smiley said it is important that children also realize what they do, say and post online will stay with them.   He referred to it as their digital footprint and it could impact whether they get into the college they want or get a job.

"They think they are incredibly tech savvy, and many of them are.  They can teach us a lot about being out there socially and out there on the Internet and and out there on how to find information but there are also many students that are naive about the potential hazards that are out there," said Smiley.

Parents also received online safety contracts to use as a teaching tool with their child.  It serves as a reminder what to do and not do online including protecting personal information that could end up in the hands of a sexual predator looking to hurt them.

Schuette's office makes presentations to schools all over the state.  To see the presentations and safety advice they offer, click here.

Copyright 2013 by All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.