Article courtesy of FamilySignal.com

As fans of ABC’s “Dancing with the Stars” may already know, the show’s 13th season has been the subject of controversy since the announcement that Chaz Bono, child of Sony and Cher, would be joining the cast. Chaz, who was born Chastity, underwent gender reassignment surgery in 2010 and legally changed his gender from female to male. Bono will be the first transgendered individual to appear on DWTS, and his presence has sparked a slew of comments on ABC’s message boards and elsewhere, including several that urge viewers to boycott the show. While many of the comments regarding Bono offered support or debated his dancing ability and celebrity status, there were a number of hateful, mean-spirited remarks aimed at Bono’s gender, sexuality, and physical appearance.

The harsh, ugly nature of these responses brings up an important issue in today’s hyper-connected digital world: cyberbullying. According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, 93% of teens aged 12-17 are online, and 63% are online every day. The same study found that 32% of these teens have experienced some form of harassment while online. When the focus turns to LGBT [Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender] teens, the numbers are even higher. As a 2010 study by the Cyberbullying Research Center showed, LGBT teens reported significantly higher rates of victimization, especially in the form of cyberbullying. When asked whether they had experienced cyberbullying within the last 30 days, 17.6% of LGBT teens reported being victimized, compared to only 6.8% of heterosexual students. Another study by the national anti-bullying campaign, Stomp Out Bullying, says that 9 out of 10 LGBT students have experiences harassment at school or online.

Regardless of your opinions on LBGT issues, as parents this is one point on which we should all agree: no person should be subjected to the hostility and hate that many LGBT teens are forced to endure. As parents, we should all agree that our children deserve our unconditional love, and as parents, we must endeavor to teach our children to treat everyone with kindness. There is no excuse for bullying, and as parents, we must guard against it in all its forms.

Maybe you will watch this week’s Dancing with the Stars premiere and maybe you won’t; but no matter how you feel about Chaz Bono or DWTS, we hope that you will take this opportunity to talk with your children about bullying, and especially about cyberbullying. Cyberbullying comes with it’s own set of precautions, and as more and more teens join social networks and communicate via cell phone, it is imperative that you and your family understand the rules of the game when it comes to digital communication.

Cyberbullying: Three Steps to Get You Started

1. EDUCATE. Cyberbullying is “a communication or posting by one or more people using cybertechnology or digital media designed to hurt, threaten, embarrass, annoy, blackmail or otherwise target another person.” It is important that both you and your child know what cyberbullying looks like, that way you know the warning signs when you see them. Familiarize yourself with the types of social networks your child uses and the privacy controls for each one. It is always a good idea to “friend” and “follow” your child on Facebook and Twitter. In addition, social media monitoring services, such as FamilySignal offer easy, non-intrusive ways to keep an eye on your child’s online behavior. Below is a bank of resources to help, including a link to state cyberbullying laws, education materials, and parent forums.

2. COMMUNICATE. One of the more important steps to dealing with a bullying situation, online or off, is establishing an open line of communication between you and your child. Talk with your kids regularly and make sure they know what to do if they or someone they know becomes a victim of cyberbullying.

3. STAY TUNED. Cyberbullying is a hot topic, and new research and resources are published every day. Keep your eye out for the latest alerts on social network privacy controls and online safety. See the links below for a few sources to help you stay informed.

· States with Cyberbullying Laws


(Courtesy of the Megan Meier Foundation and the Cyberbullying Research Center)

· Beyond Bullies


Great compilation of resources and information about both bullying and cyberbullying

Connects kids with “ETeen Leaders” who can answer questions and give advice on bullying and cyberbullying. Teens can also apply to be mentors and ETeen Leaders.

· Bullying Parent’s Forum


Read other parents’ stories and share your own. Also provides helpful links to literature and support groups that deal with bullying and cyberbullying.

· Academic Research on Bullying and Cyberbullying

The University of Nebraska-Lincoln is home to the Bullying Research Network, which compiles research on issues relating to bullying.

· Cyberbullying Scenarios


If you’re not sure what cyberbullying looks like, these scenarios give you a good idea of the lengths to which some bullies will go. Discuss them with your children and decide how you would react if they happened to you.

· FamilySignal Blog


Great resource for the latest news on social networking and online safety.

Leading social network monitoring tool.

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