Cyberbullying: What Kids Experience & What Adults Need To Know About It



By Ben Halpert, Founder Savvy Cyber Kids, an EarthLink partner


As a parent, watching your child struggle is extremely difficult. You want to intervene and make things better. Yet, parents are often cautioned to step back and let the child sort through the challenge, build resilience and solve the problem. While this is worthwhile strategy, when it comes to cyberbullying, it’s not always the best advice.


Why? Because the playing field for today’s kids is very different than for past generations.


When a child of yesterday had a challenge with a person or a group of friends, or even with school in general, when the school day ended or summer break started, that child would exit the situation, go home, hopefully to a supportive environment, or engage in an out-of-school activity --  and either strategy would bolster the child. The break would be an escape, a breather from whatever negativity was hurting him or her, and an opportunity to regroup and then try again. Surely, this, even back then, was not the panacea for solving all problems – but it did help many, many kids get through awkward growing up experiences.


Today’s children, thanks to being wired 24/7, literally have no such escape. Out of school, even at home or out of town, they can receive relentless continued attacks, on social media, by text, by email, in games, and even in Google Docs! They can also witness firsthand how they are being left out by watching social media posts. They can experience isolation and cruelty in a nonstop cycle – often without an adult being aware of the problem.


Your child’s digital world can be a dangerous playground. There they can experience genuine hurt that shapes how they see themselves and how they grow into an adult. When a parent witnesses a child that is broken down, with no self-confidence, who wants to fit in and can't find a way to do so, who blames him or herself for not being normal, and who lashes out with misbehavior, it’s very painful and can have tragic outcomes.


It’s worth taking a moment to try and define what cyberbullying is and is not. Cyberbullying is not social drama, an argument, mean gossip, an impulsive expression of anger or a prank that fell short. No doubt, your child can be hurt by these actions. Rather, cyberbullying is a more serious form of aggression, typically targeted and repeated behaviors that are shared widely, sometimes virally, sometimes by anonymous posters. True cyberbullying reflects a real or perceived power imbalance that’s physical, psychological and/or social -- with a connection to real life – typically your child’s school life.


Whether what your child is experiencing is actual cyberbullying -- or not -- is not the measure of when you, as a parent, need to step in. If your child is experiencing any negativity online, feels isolated and unworthy – you need to be aware of that – and step in to support your child, before anything escalates.


Parents and grandparents of a child who is active online, here’s what you can do to help:


  • Get involved and stay involved in your young person’s digital life. You need to be aware of who they are communicating with and the content of the communications – on every single device, platform and app used by your child. Whether this is via a parental control tool that helps you identify problematic behavior, by accessing your child’s phone and social media accounts to explore recent activity or by regular conversation does not matter. What matters is inserting yourself into your child’s digital life so that you can understand what they are experiencing online.


  • Listen to your child. While your child may be resistant to sharing, you need to be steadfast in letting your child know that you are there and that you have his or her back. This means being a resource to your child – not so much with advice or suggestions, and especially not with anger and frustration – but as a caring, sounding board to hear your child’s struggle. By persistently being there, even when they refuse to talk, by being curious and asking questions, they will come to know that they can talk it out with you – and understand that in no possible reality are they alone, unworthy or unloved.


  • Promote adventures off the screen. Seeking out activities that are not in a digital world can remind your child that life is lived off a screen. Challenge your child to experience different places and people to broaden his or her perspective and to cultivate empathy for others. Show your child how to take the time to put down the phone, to see the world through his or her eyes and heart without an Instagram filter.


  • Make new connections offline. While, as parents, we would like to be fixers and show the other kids how great our child is, past the toddler ages, this strategy rarely works. As adults, we can reveal to our children how wide the world is, how possibilities for experiences and connections can be limitless, if we are willing to put the work into trying new things. Making new connections can limit the sting of false friendships.


  • When appropriate, respond with action. Your child may need you to intervene by saving any evidence of bullying that exists. If the bullying is from a child at school, speak with school administration and bring copies of your evidence. If things do get out of hand and the school is not responding, it is time to call the police (and yes, it starts by you calling 911 and report the issue).


You are your child’s advocate and showing up for them – for uncomfortable conversations – will show your child that when they open up about struggles that you are listening and are there for him or her.


Have confidence in your child – and in your parenting. You being there for your child, to listen and to help them, whether they are wronged or when they are in the wrong, is what will get them through growing up in a digital world.


Savvy Cyber Kids educates and empowers digital citizens, from parents and grandparents, to teachers and students. Sign up for their free resources to help you navigate today’s digital world with cyber ethics.

Social Media & Your Data

By Ben Halpert, Founder Savvy Cyber Kids, an EarthLink partner



While many of us appreciate the idea of privacy, and may even actively try to preserve privacy when online, the reality is that every internet-enabled move we make is tracked, logged, reused, and sold . It’s difficult to understand what devices, apps, games, social media and websites are tracking about our online behaviors. Sure, you could ‘try’ to read the privacy rules for everything you do online, but the reading is incredibly dense, not written for a non-tech person and  - to boot – changes with each and every update. You could make it your full-time job managing privacy settings!

If you are concerned about your privacy on social media sites, here are some tips that can help you understand how they are tracking you online and give you guidance for how you can maximize your privacy.



Everything in your profile  -- because your profiles are always public. Each platform encourages you to personalize your profile, with a photo, your address or geographic area, gender, age, family information, education, employment and more. As much as a detailed profile can make you look interesting, you have to ask yourself if you are comfortable sharing all of this PRIVATE information with any stranger in the world with an internet connection! For some sites, status updates may also be public. This means that your ‘relaxing on the beach’ update may actually be an invitation to have your home visited while you are away -- by criminals! Oh, and all your Venmo payments are public (unless you changed your privacy settings from their default). Even paying for good and service is social now!

Where you are right now. Your real-time location may be being broadcast this very minute, as public information or to contacts within your network. Ever ‘check-in’ to a local business or event? Unless you want people to know your business 24/7, this may not be the best practice for you. This is especially true if your social media ‘friends’ differ from those in real life. Since we can never know who someone is that we meet online, you may be sharing your location with someone who in reality you would not trust with that degree of personal information.

Any content you share online, from music to photographs to videos and links to other websites. Besides the fact that you may not want broad access to your personal content, advertisers collect this data to learn more about you, so that they can target you with advertising. Hackers also learn more about you from the content that you post, so that they can steal your online identity. Think your security questions to reset your password are secret? Well, they can be gleaned from all you share on social media.

Whatever you post as ‘public.’ This includes your username (so don’t reveal anything about yourself with your username – unless you are an influencer using your own name!) or your posts – if you check them to be public. It’s not just your ‘friends’ who see this data – any stranger, anywhere, will know about your hernia surgery or the birth of your grandchild if your posts or account is set to public.


Even if you lock down the privacy settings in account, there still may be information being shared about you without you controlling the flow.

 Friends and followers can share your content. When they copy and repost your photos and personal information, without your permission, they have bypassed privacy settings and there is little you can do about it.

Third-party applications are watching you and recording your every move. Social media sites and apps grant access to third-party applications and you may not have any knowledge about it! Advertisers buy their way into your data, not necessarily to study your personal posts, but to track your online activity (what sites you visit, what products you look at, and what you put into your shopping cart) and then to provide that information to businesses that, based your interests and behaviors, will tailor advertising just for you. Why do the social media sites do this? Because their revenue model is based on advertising. When advertisers have this incredibly personalized data, they then buy advertising on the social media sites and other platforms. So your free access to social media sites clearly has a price!

Also, be wary of games, quizzes and polls. These may be fun and entertaining but they are also likely generated by third party applications and give access to your public – and potentially private –  information to these entities. Even if you have read your social media sites privacy information, third-party applications may not be required to adhere to these rules. Your social media site will rely on legalese to not take responsibility for the actions of these companies, meaning that, the data they mine may not be stored securely (anyone can hack into it), they may access more information than they ‘need’ to perform their publicly stated function, and they could install malware onto your account to deepen how they track you.

Yes, Big Brother is watching you. Government and law enforcement very typically look to social networks for information regarding illegal activity.  While each site has its own rules for working with law enforcement, and some may be more comforting than others, the reality is that the search for the bad guy can often result in many good guys having private information shared broadly.

Your paycheck is at risk. Current and future employers are absolutely watching what you do online and making employment decisions based on this version of you. While employers are limited by The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) as to what information they can get from formal background checks, employers have full reign to gather whatever they can about you from informal internet searches. Be careful what you post and what you comment, even after you are hired. Many employers have social media policies to direct employees how to behave online – and hire companies that monitor online employee activity.



  • Use a unique and strong password – one that you do not use anywhere else. How many times have you heard a friend announce that their social media account was hacked? I bet a lot. I would also bet that these hacked accounts were able to be hacked because this friend was a victim of a security breaches – where their name and password was stolen – and because they reuse passwords, the hacker was able to break-into other of their accounts. Don’t re-use passwords and use a password manager to keep your passwords organized!

Enable strong authentication. Now that you have a good password, choose the option to have a code sent to you when logging in so help prevent someone that may have gotten hold of your password form pretending to be you.

  • When setting up your profile, provide the minimum amount of personal information necessary.
  • Don't set your account or your posts to public and be sure that you know in real life all of your friends and followers.
  • Prune your "friends" list on a regular basis. It's easy to forget who you've connected to over time, and therefore who you are sharing information with.
  • Be careful sharing your birthday, age, or place of birth. This information could be useful to identity thieves and to data mining companies. If you do post your birthday, age or place of birth, restrict who has access to this information using the site’s privacy settings.
  • Use caution when using third-party applications. For the highest level of safety and privacy, avoid them completely. If you consider using one, review the privacy policy and terms of service for the application.
  • Read the social network’s privacy policy (especially if you need help falling asleep at night )– but remember, a social network can change its privacy policy at any time. Content that was posted with restrictive privacy settings may become visible when a privacy policy is altered.

More than anything, it is important to be aware of the information that you are providing on social media sites and to be conscious of the choices you make to protect your privacy. No doubt, you are being watched – but it’s entirely up to you as to what others can learn about you on social media sites!


Savvy Cyber Kids educates and empowers digital citizens, from parents and grandparents, to teachers and students. Sign up for their free resources to help you navigate today’s digital world with cyber ethics.

It’s Time to Teach Your Teen Grandchild How to Navigate Their Independent Life

By Ben Halpert, Founder Savvy Cyber Kids, an EarthLink partner


When your grandchild was younger, staying safe was someone else’s responsibility. Parents, grandparents, caregivers and other loved ones have looked out for your grandchild since the day he/she was born. They made sure your grandchild wore the right clothing to keep warm and healthy, was fed the right foods at the right ages, and watched each step your grandchild took, making sure that play and exploration didn't get your grandchild into too much trouble.

Fast forward to today, and your baby grandchild is a teenager who is naturally gaining independence. And with independence comes responsibility! The kind of responsibility I’m talking about isn’t about keeping up with schoolwork, keeping a room neat, saving money and or even contributing to household chores. Don’t get me wrong, those are important tasks that I hope that your teen grandchild is – on his/her own – weaving into day-to-day activities.

In this case, the kind of responsibility I’m talking about is very focused on your teens’ judgement to keep himself/herself SAFE – without relying exclusively on technology. Let your teen know:

  • It’s not that your parents or anyone else who loves you, doesn’t care to keep you safe anymore. It’s the reality that the more independent you get, it becomes no longer possible to keep eyes on you in the same way that your loved ones could when you were a much younger person. And truth be told, before too long you will be moving out and living as an independent adult.
  • This means that YOU need to be prepared to manage that responsibility 24/7. So the time is now to start looking out for yourself to be sure that your activities and decisions are not working against you. You need to be sure that the choices you are making, and the ways that you pay attention, keep you free from harm.

At the very youngest of ages, your teen grandchild was likely taught to know his/her home address. Even though your grandchild was taught not to tell strangers where he/she lived, it was an important piece of information to know should your grandchild ever be lost and need to tell a police officer or a trusted adult where he/she lived. Knowing a home address was planting the seed for your teen grandchild to be aware of his/her surroundings.

Have these important discussions with your teen grandchild:

  • Can you navigate your life? Think about the places you typically go, whether it’s to school or to sports activities or to synagogue or church. Can you direct someone else who’s driving to get you to those places?
  • Would you be aware if someone was taking you in a different direction than they were supposed to go? It’s an important question for you, isn’t it. You’ve been brought up in the digital age where everyone relies heavily on technology for information and where technology bridges us to connect with strangers for services like ridesharing. It’s important for you to know how to get places. From memory or from studying a map ahead of time. And don’t just rely on map apps to get you there because sometimes they don’t work. You’re better off using these apps to navigate traffic than to always rely on them for the knowledge that you, as an adult, need to start paying attention to.

Tips for safety to share with your teen grandchild:

  • Start navigating your life by familiarizing yourself with the routes you take each week.
  • Know your route before you go – whether it's a car ride or a jog, walk, or bike ride.
  • If walking, biking or jogging, be sure to pick a path where others can always see you.
  • Don’t rely 100% on technology for your information. Rely on yourself first wherever possible. Then use technology, to gain further insight to a situation, like being aware of traffic patterns along a known route, or using your own map navigation app when using a ride-sharing service to verify your direction.
  • When you are with a group, don't let your guard down. While there is safety in numbers, being distracted is what those who wish you harm are looking for.
  • If you feel uncomfortable in a situation, something is probably wrong. Change what you are doing and get to a more secure location.

Most importantly, tell your teen to trust his/her gut! Let them know that they do not need to be concerned about offending someone. If your teen grandchild feels unsafe, it’s up to him/her to make whatever adjustments that are needed to make safety a number one priority.


Savvy Cyber Kids educates and empowers digital citizens, from parents and grandparents, to teachers and students. Sign up for their free resources to help you navigate today’s digital world with cyber ethics.

Ride-Sharing: Stay Safe While Waiting For Your Ride

By Ben Halpert, Founder Savvy Cyber Kids, an EarthLink partner


Ridesharing services are now commonplace. Everywhere you go, you will see people looking into their phones and watching the road for their incoming ride. We have, in a relatively short amount of time, gotten extremely comfortable with the notion of getting into a stranger’s cars and having them learn our addresses as they take us home. No doubt, being safe when ride-sharing requires your diligent attention – and not just in the car watching the route you are being driven on, but also before you step into the ridesharing vehicle! Don't let the prevalence and convenience of ride-sharing make you forget your common sense.

After all, there are enough reports of sexual assault, harassment, violence and stalking by rideshare drivers from Uber or Lyft. Not to mention criminals when they see you waiting for your ride, pretending to be Uber or Lyft drivers. Your life may be powered by technology, but there are steps you must take – that the app cannot do for you – to stay safe.

Here is what you need to look out for BEFORE you get into a ride share car:

  • Request your ride from inside a building and wait indoors until the app shows your driver has arrived. If you must wait outside, avoid being alone while waiting for your ride to arrive. This is a great habit even if you are waiting for a parent or friend to pick you up!
  • Before getting in the car, make sure that the license plate, the car type, the driver’s photo and the name match the information on your ride sharing app. Don’t rely on seeing Uber and Lyft emblems and logos on windows and dashboard that could be fakes. Your technology is providing safeguards, use them!
  • Ask the driver the name of the passenger they are picking up before you enter the car.
  • If any of the details provided by your ride sharing app don't match up, don’t get in the car and report the issue in the app.
  • Don’t sit in the front next to the driver. Sitting in the back creates a safety barrier between you and the driver and it gives you your own personal space.

In the car, do these things to stay safe:

  • Text a friend or loved one to let them know that you’re using a ridesharing service. Check in with them when your ride is done and you have arrived safely. You can also use the share status features within ride-sharing apps that track your trip and show your ETA.
  • Don’t chat too much and reveal personal details just to pass the time. Everyone doesn’t need to know your business, do they? Mentioning how long you’re traveling for, if you will be alone at home, where you live or any personal information is private and should remain so. The less strangers know about you, the better!

On every ride, pay attention to your feelings about safety. Uncomfortable? Call a friend and talk on the phone during the ride. Or call 911 if you feel you are in danger. After your ride, rate your driver and provide feedback about your driver, especially if they made you uncomfortable in any way! Unless you share this information, the ridesharing companies cannot take action if their drivers behave inappropriately.


Savvy Cyber Kids educates and empowers digital citizens, from parents and grandparents, to teachers and students. Sign up for their free resources to help you navigate today’s digital world with cyber ethics.

Phishing: You Know What It Is But Will You Know When It Happens To You?

By Ben Halpert, Founder Savvy Cyber Kids, an EarthLink partner

No doubt, by now you have heard of phishing, the fraudulent practice of using emails, DMs or texts that end up taking you to a copycat websites pretending to be from a reputable company in order to get you to reveal personal information, such as account numbers, Social Security numbers, login IDs, passwords and credit card numbers. This information is valuable to criminals who use it to steal your money or your identity or both, as well as, to get access to your computer to launch a ransomware attack that can lock you out of your computer.

Listen, it’s easy to make mistakes! The scammers have gotten very, very good at imitating the familiar logos and login pages of legitimate companies. The criminals will make it seem like they need your information quickly – your account will be frozen, you won’t get a tax refund, your account will go into overdrawn status or a family member will be hurt or you could be arrested. Basically, they tell lies that panic you to get to you act quickly, without thinking, and give them information that they want.

This recently happened to me. An email from Amazon showed an order that looked unfamiliar. It was a really large purchase and I was naturally concerned. Without thinking, I clicked on the order number and within moments, a poker gaming software was loaded on my computer. Clearly, this was not really an email from Amazon. Later, when I lingered my mouse over the sender email address, I was able to see that the sender address was not valid. I should have done this BEFORE I clicked on the link. This time, I was able to quickly remove the invading software and do several security scans to ensure nothing was left behind. But it was a good reminder that’s it’s very, very easy to be tricked – especially when distracted by the demands of life off the screen!

Older people are natural targets of scam artists. The criminals assume that they will be easily confused and will act on emotion – especially when inquiries are related to the well-being of bank accounts and billing accounts. But scams are not limited to grandparents! Our youngest digital citizens, our children and grandchildren who spend a lot of time online are being marketed to by scammers who focus on their areas of interests, like gaming. Common scams ask young people to fill out a survey to gain gaming benefits or enter into an exchange of gaming loot. It’s all fake but by clicking on links and providing personal information, young people are at risk too. Their gaming accounts can be stolen, along with the parent’s credit cards associated with that account.

So while you may err and sometimes click on a link that you should not have – you need to be especially careful not to enter ANY personal information in response to an inquiry, unless you have firmly validated the authenticity of the sender.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, the rules to stay safe are the same for all ages:

  • Be cautious about opening attachments or clicking on links in emails. Even your friend or family members’ accounts could be hacked. Files and links can contain malware that can weaken your computer's security.
  • Do your own typing. If a company or organization you know sends you a link or phone number, don’t click. Use your favorite search engine to look up the website or phone number yourself. Even though a link or phone number in an email may look like the real deal, scammers can hide the true destination.
  • Make the call if you’re not sure. Do not respond to any emails that request personal or financial information. Phishers use pressure tactics and prey on fear. If you think a company, friend or family member really does need personal information from you, pick up the phone and call them yourself using the number on their website or in your address book, not the one in the email.
  • Turn on two-factor authentication. For accounts that support it, two-factor authentication requires both your password and an additional piece of information to log in to your account. The second piece could be a code sent to your phone, or a random number generated by an app or a token. This protects your account even if your password is compromised.
  • As an extra precaution, you may want to choose more than one type of second authentication (e.g. a PIN) in case your primary method (such as a phone) is unavailable.
  • Back up your files to an external hard drive or cloud storage. Back up your files regularly to protect yourself against viruses or a ransomware attack.
  • Keep your security up to date. Use security software you trust, and make sure you set it to update automatically.

Read more here: and see examples of phishing scams that imitate companies that look very familiar to you, like Netflix, UPS, Wells Fargo, Bank of America, PayPal, Amazon and the IRS.

Talk to your children and grandchildren about phishing and scams. Remind them of the old adage, if it sounds too good to be true, it is!


Savvy Cyber Kids educates and empowers digital citizens, from parents and grandparents, to teachers and students. Sign up for their free resources to help you navigate today’s digital world with cyber ethics.

The Right Age for a First Phone

By Ben Halpert, Founder Savvy Cyber Kids, an EarthLink partner

Before we start this chat off with some preachy, scientific-based but potentially somewhat tone-deaf-to-reality blanket statements, let’s look at what is actually happening with today’s youth.

  • The average age for a child getting their first smartphone is now 10-years-old.
  • 64% of kids have access to the internet via their own devices, compared to 42% in 2012.
  • 39% of kids get a social media account at 11-years-old.

On average, kids in the 4th and 5th grades have their hands on a powerful device that leaves them unsupervised and open to a whole lot of trouble. Whatever trouble they can get into, you can be sure that a phone will magnify that trouble 100x.

Sure, parents of previous generations had to face tough parental decisions. But the advent of smartphones and the connectivity of technology has brought with it even more challenging judgement calls.

And, like any other parenting decision, this is a personal one, driven by family dynamics. There is no one-size-fits-all answer for every family—and there may be different answers for each child in your family. I would put aside concerns about being fair and consistent with your children when it comes to giving a child access to a device that literally connects them with the world – the good and the very, very bad. Your child’s maturity and willingness to accept responsibility should be the driving forces in assessing his or her readiness for a phone.

But if you are looking for that very appropriate and scientific-based set of recommendations to gauge how you make this most important decision, I can tell you this: The longer you wait, the better it is for your child. Medical boards and educational experts universally agree that waiting 12 or 14 years old to give your child a phone, gives them a chance to mature enough to begin to manage the complications that come with a phone: distraction, addiction, cyberbullying, pornography, sexting, child predators and more.

You have heard Savvy Cyber Kids say this before: Parenting in the Digital Age is hard. So, if you are looking for an article or a study or an expert panel to give you the nod of approval for handing over a phone to your child sooner, you are asking the wrong questions. Instead, consider these questions:

  • How well does your child keep track of and treat their personal belongings? Is he or she responsible enough to care for a phone?
  • What responsibilities does your child have already and how well does he or she honor managing those responsibilities?
  • How well does your child understand consequences of actions?
  • Is your child empathetic?
  • Is your child thoughtful or does he or she act without thinking or behave impulsively?
  • Do family dynamics, like your work schedule or your kid’s after-school commitments, create a need for staying in touch with a phone?
  • Have you talked to your child about bullying and digital reputation?
  • Do your kids understand what a friend is—only someone they know in real life—and that anyone else they meet online is a stranger and should always be treated as a stranger?

This is a big decision to make and you should proceed slowly and thoughtfully. Here are some steps you should consider:

  • THE DUMB PHONE: Instead of a ‘smartphone,’ consider starting off with a simple flip phone, one that is not connected to the internet and can only send text messages or place phone calls.
  • FAMILY PHONE RULES: Work with your child to create a unique set of family rules your child must adhere to get and keep a phone. These rules should include giving parents access to all passwords for devices and apps; agreeing to never take or send sexually-charged images (what kids call ‘nudes’); and promising to never, ever try to meet up with a ‘friend’ (or what you as a parent would consider a stranger) from the internet in real life. Other rules to consider are: no devices at the dinner table, putting devices away when friends are visiting; and placing devices out of the bedroom at night.
  • THE NAUGHTY PHONE: Once your child graduates to a smartphone, have a Naughty Phone handy (this, by the way, can be that Dumb Phone you started with) that they will get when they break rules.

Above all, get involved in your child’s digital life. Read Savvy Cyber Kid’s ongoing series, The Parent’s Guide to Technology to get more ideas about helping your child thrive with technology. Have The Tech Talk and make sure your kids see you as a resource to help them navigate their digital world.


Savvy Cyber Kids educates and empowers digital citizens, from parents and grandparents, to teachers and students. Sign up for their free resources to help you navigate today’s digital world with cyber ethics.