We live in a new day and age. Of course, bullying has existed since the dawn of time, but now kids have a new medium to display it. Cyberbullying has become all too common and at a deadly price. Learn about the story of Hannah Smith. 

Poor Hannah Whitall Smith of Leicestershire, England and her family learned this the hard way. Hannah could be described as a normal teenager, in fact, her family knew her as “bubbly, bright, cheerful, and never had a glum face,” they said. On August 2, 2013, Hannah’s sister found her hanged in her bedroom. The family felt like they had no warning before her suicide.

Her suicide is the result of cyberbullying. Hannah felt she had no other choice. Hannah’s teachers even admitted that bullying occurred at her school on two other occasions. In March 2012, there was an attack at a party; someone pushed Hannah’s head against a wall twice. The circumstances of the fight were not disclosed but soon after Hannah’s demeanour changed.

What is shocking is that everyone thought that the messages posted about Hannah on ask.fm were posted by a bully. However, an investigation revealed Hannah herself sent 98 percent of the messages. Since the start of ask.fm, 10 deaths occurred; the owners blatantly claim that the deaths were not their website’s fault.

With more than 100 million unique users each month it’s shocking that ask.fm never took responsibility for their site’s role in the deaths of so many teens. Many groups, people, and agencies want the site shut down. A petition was even started on change.org. In August 2014 ask.com purchased the site and promised to revamp the site, changing its policies, and installing measures to combat cyberbullying. Ask.com plans to make the site more engaging as well as safer for its users.

The tragedy of this story opens the gates for parents to talk to their teams about several issues when using the Internet including cyberbullying and safety online.

Determining if your child is at risk

• If your child is online for large amounts of time; including at night. Children are at a greater risk at night.

• You discover that there is pornography on your child’s computer.

• If your child receives gifts, packages, or mail from someone you do not know.

• When you walk in the room your child tries to hide what they were doing online.

• You discover your child is using an account online that does not belong to him or her.

• You and your child won’t know the signs of cyberbullying.

What is cyberbullying?

Cyberbullying means being harassed, threatened, embarrassed, or targeted through technology by another person.

How to recognize cyberbullying?

• A tweet, post, IM, email, text or response that is cruel, mean, or harsh and either mentions someone by name or makes reference to that person.

• A video that impersonates or is made to hurt or embarrass a person.

• Personal information posted online in a derogatory way.

• A photo or altered photo posted and shows a likeness of a person

• Someone creates a fake persona, account or webpage with the express intent to stalk, harass or bully someone.

• Threats of or promoting violence toward another person.

• Child pornography or pictures that are considered sexually explicit.

• Pictures were taken of someone in places where we expect privacy like the locker room or bathroom.

• A repeated pattern of any of the above.

What are the effects of cyberbullying?

The victims of cyberbullying are usually left to feel that they are helpless. They often display signs of anxiety, depression and stress. There are estimates that 1 in 4 teens have been the victim of cyberbullying and that 1 in 6 have done it to someone else.

Signs of a cyberbullying victim.

As with the case of Hannah Smith the worry is that a child will take their life because of cyberbullying. Suicide is one of the worst possible outcomes of cyberbullying. Another sign that cyberbullying can also cause is that someone is upset, being secretive, social withdrawal and the person was very social before, change in grades at school, change in behaviour and mood, nervous or jumpy behaviour when the phone rings or receive a message, and avoiding conversations about cyber usage.

Punishing the bully

Cyberbullying usually goes unreported. Kids are reluctant to tell about bullying. If a child does come forth any punishment should include having the bully’s computer privileges revoked. Most schools now have policies in place that can include suspension and being kicked out of extracurricular activities. In certain states cyberbullying is a crime.

What to tell your kids about cyberbullying.

• Never post your personal information online for anyone to see including in chat rooms, blogs, instant messages and personal websites.

• Never give out your password or anyone else’s password.

• If a message threatens you or says anything you don’t like save it, print it and show it to an adult.

• Don’t open emails from someone you do not know.

• Don’t post anything online that you do not want anyone to see.

• If you know of a bullying instance that happens online tell an adult and does not join in.

• Always treat someone online how you want people to treat you online.

• Before you send a message ask yourself how you would feel if you were going to receive the message.

How to talk to your children about cyberbullying

Open for discussion

Always let your kids know that they can talk to you about anything. Leave the lines of communication open so your kids can come to you in situations that make them uncomfortable or put them at risk.

You are always there.

Let your kids know that even when the situation is bad they can trust you and you are there for them. Even if they are on the other end of the bullying spectrum, being an active parent helps your children feel at ease talking to you when times are difficult for them.

Don’t judge

Many times children don’t talk to their parents because they believe we will judge their actions. While it is your job to teach your child right from wrong if you are too judgmental your child will not come to you with their problems when they arise.

Teach them to protect themselves

Many teens today are posting their entire schedules and personal information online making them accessible to a host of situations that turn out dangerously. The dangers of posting your personal information online have the potential of being life-threatening.

Create your cyberbullying policy

This one may take some research for parents that are not experienced with social media, but some good rule of thumb practices are monitoring your children’s accounts, limiting their usage to age proper sites, no Internet or phone after a certain time at night, or any other measures you believe are beneficial for your child. Put the agreement in writing and have your child sign it. You can also create a system of rewards for your child to help with your campaign to keep them safe.

Give some examples

Cyberbullying is new to kids also, you may need to give them some examples so they can identify what cyberbullying is. Cyberbullying comes in so many shades of grey. One person’s good natured joke is an insult to someone else. As a parent, it is hard to distinguish where some issues fall; letting your child know that any behaviour that makes them uncomfortable has the potential to turn into a situation that is cyberbullying.

Technology is a privilege

Parents who feel obligated to let their children use the Internet because well everyone is doing it nowadays need not feel guilty when they have to take the privilege away. It is your job to protect your children and when they are being reckless online you should not feel guilty about enforcing safety. Explain to your children that the ability to use the Internet is a privilege that you will take away if needed, which is a great way to show your commitment to their safety.

Explain your feelings on the subject

Whether you feel that you are keeping them safe or you are watching their level of exposure; let your child know that you are talking to them because you have their best interest at heart. Talking to teenagers is hard, but this is a necessary step to prevent your child from becoming a victim of cyberbullying.

Do your homework

Become an informed parent. There are several websites that parents can check to make sure they keep abreast of what their child is doing. Parents cannot be everywhere every minute of the day, but as a parent, you can learn how to check your child’s online history, you can install special software that tracks what they are doing online, and you can also create parental controls that will block out potentially harmful material from your children.

Adopting the attitude that you are doing what is best to protect your child is the first stance a parent can take. Cyberbullying has taken the lives of so many children around the world that we need to take a stance for our children. With the right education at home and school children can recognize whether there is bullying or if they are a bully and take the necessary steps to correct the behaviour.

You want children to open in talking with you no matter what end of the spectrum they are on. With a little more awareness maybe Hannah Smith would still be here to give her story as a warning for other teens that face the problems she faced. At the age of 14, Hannah still had her entire life ahead of her but now she is no longer here and she will never get to reach the potential that she could have had.