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Ossining Parents Team Up to Stop Cyberbullying

OSSINING, N.Y. – When a student in the Ossining School District is hassled or bullied by his peers at school, there are several programs and steps in place to get the student help. But sometimes the bullying doesn’t stop at school and can follow students home through technology like cellphones and the Internet.

It’s called cyberbullying and dozens of Ossining parents met Wednesday night in hopes of putting an end to it. Laura Forbes, Westchester’s assistant district attorney, described several preventative measures parents can take to minimize students’ risk. Forbes suggested parents closely monitor their child’s activity online, especially when using social networking sites like Facebook or Twitter.

“There are so many wonderful technologies that we have but when we went to school and we got home, things would stop,” Forbes said. “Cellphones and computers mean that they’re never left alone and in a truly safe environment even if they’re in their own homes.”

Forbes’ visit Wednesday was part of a series on educating parents on bullying through social media and new technologies. The series is sponsored through a $5,000 grant from Verizon and other efforts like Ossining Communities That Care. Forbes said she has dealt with dozens of cases throughout Westchester County related to kids being bullied or sexually harassed online.

“When your kids go out at night, you ask them who they’re going out with. That’s what you need to be doing when they go online too,” Forbes said. “The latest statistics I’ve seen show around seven out of 10 girls online have said they’ve encountered a person who they deem as a threat sexually or otherwise. And it happens with boys too. This is a real problem and it’s not often talked about.”

Forbes added that the problem is not the social networking sites themselves, but the lack of education among parents about how their kids are using those sites.

“It’s not spying as parenting, it’s keeping an active role in their lives and keeping yourself aware of what they’re doing,” Forbes said. “I encourage parents to not have blinders on because that’s how these problems usually start.”

Alice Joselow, coordinator of Ossining Communities That Care, said she’s a parent and knows the struggle many face keeping up with learning new technologies.

“The trouble is that so many parents like us are dinosaurs technologically and our children are exponentially ahead of us,” she said. “These technologies, like Facebook, have changed so much just in the last six years. So it really is important to learn about these things. The kids know about them. We need to know about them too.”

Several parents and administrators agreed Wednesday night to help communicate the message that parents need to educate themselves and their children about the dangers that can occur online. A few community members also agreed that the district or a parenting group should start a Facebook page specifically to educate parents about cyberbullying.

Parent Louis Digioia said the best solution is to keep up communication with kids and make sure you stay educated on new technologies available.

“Where we go from here is to go home and talk to them about it,” he said. “Educate them and groom them and show them the right way to use these technologies they have available to them.”

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