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18 Aug, Thursday
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Montreal Families

Website tackles cyberbullying

Anyone who has experienced childhood bullying knows that the perpetrators have a wide array of tactics: hitting, pushing, verbal taunts, etc. But recently, bullies have turned to the Internet as a means of hurting and humiliating those they don’t like. Cyberbullying can include posting mean comments on Facebook, sending threatening texts or emails or even sharing embarrassing photos of someone through the Internet. The consequences to those being bullied can be devastating, particularly because posts on Facebook and the web can reach so many people — and are so difficult to erase.

But thanks to McGill University associate professor, Dr. Shaheen Shariff, families and schools have an online resource where they can learn about cyberbullying and discover ways to address this problem. The bilingual site is called Define the Line (definetheline.ca) and it offers a huge amount of information, including sections on Quebec’s laws regarding cyberbullying.

Shariff says a key goal is to help young people explore and understand the often-murky lines between joking around and bullying. “Children need to understand their actions on and off line,” she explains. “We are developing tools that will guide people in defining the line between horseplay and legal consequences.” For example, young people need to understand that posting sexually explicit photos of themselves or a friend can have devastating and long-term consequences for everyone involved.

The information on the site comes from different experts and researchers. It is presented in a variety of ways including blogs and videos. There are separate areas for kids, teens, parents, teachers and policy makers. In the section for kids, for example, young people will find videos that explore, in age appropriate ways, issues such as online safety and the impact of “mean words” (i.e. bullying”) on others. Teens will find videos, quizzes and expert advice, as well as a special “hot topic” section that encourages them to think critically about current events in which technology, especially social media, plays a leading role. For example, one entry examines the issue of people posting photos to Facebook of rioters in Vancouver after the loss in the Stanley Cup finals.

Define the Line McGill University Dr. Shaheen ShariffThe section for parents has many articles exploring the risks and challenges children face in an online, connected world and solid advice for avoiding cyberbullying and harassment. Shariff describes parents as the “digital immigrants” who are learning to navigate worlds filled with a new language and customs, and children as being “digital natives,” meaning they are comfortable with new technologies. She says that there is often a huge gap between how teens and adults use technology and she hopes that the website will narrow that gap — or at least get families talking about what they are doing online.

Shariff is also working closely with schools, with a section on the website geared towards educators. She and her team have partnered with the Lester B. Pearson school board to help create a Digital Citizenship program that will teach faculty and students how to use technology responsibly.

The website can help everyone examine how their words and actions online have an impact in the real world, especially when it comes to bullying. Shariff and her team are making it easier to confront those who seek to hide their harmful actions behind a computer screen.

For more information, visit definetheline.ca.

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