Cyberbullying Issues Present Legal and Parenting Problems for Families With Teens

December 6, 2010 by David S. Seltzer

As part of my series of posts on protecting your children on the Internet, I wrote in October about cyberbullying. So I was interested to see a lengthy article on the same subject from the New York Times. Dated Dec. 4, the article outlined the problems many parents have when their children are involved in cyberbullying -- both as victims and as perpetrators. I’d like to discuss this from the perspective of a West Palm Beach cyber crime criminal defense attorney, because as the article shows, there are several ways for kids to land in serious legal trouble because of cyberbullying.

In one such case, three ninth-grade boys from Massachusetts made a Facebook page that appeared to belong to a fourth boy, D.C. D.C. didn’t know about the page until kids got upset with him for “saying” unkind things about them on “his” page, but he was quickly shunned by other students, isolated and miserable. After learning that the school could do nothing to help, his mother asked the police to intervene. When the perpetrators were caught, they went into a diversion program for nonviolent juvenile offenders. As with adult probation and diversion programs, this program allows them to avoid a conviction if they meet probation conditions including letters of apology to everyone they insulted; five-page papers on cyberbullying; attending classes on Internet safety; community service; and no Internet access except for schoolwork. Other parents attempted to resolve the issues by meeting with the other parents involved, which was sometimes successful but sometimes resulted in indifference or anger.

As this article shows, cyberbullying can have serious real-world consequences for everyone -- perpetrators as well as victims. As a Miami cyber crime criminal defense lawyer, I don’t believe the legal system is the best place to resolve cyberbullying. In the most extreme cases, the legal system can overreact to cyberbullying, charging teenagers with adult sex crimes or stalking for behaviors that grew out of inexperience and not thinking. The consequences of these convictions can follow teens around for years or even their entire lives, especially in cases involving sex charges. Whenever possible, I believe parents are best off resolving cyberbullying by meeting with other parents, carefully explaining and documenting the problem. When appropriate, school officials may also get involved. This may not be helpful if the other parents shrug off the behavior, as the article says some have, and authorities may have to get involved in severe cases. But as a Fort Lauderdale cyber crime criminal defense attorney, I want parents on all sides of this issue to be very careful about involving their kids in potentially life-altering criminal proceedings.

David Seltzer is an experienced cyber crime attorney who once served in the cyber crime unit at the Miami-Dade State’s Attorney’s office. If you or your child are facing Internet-related criminal charges, don’t wait before calling Seltzer Law, P.A. for help. To set up a free, confidential case evaluation, call us toll-free at 1-888-THE-DEFENSE (1-888-843-3333) -- 24 hours a day and seven days a week -- or send us a message through our website.