Bullying is by no means a new phenomenon; however increased usage of the internet and social media has significantly broadened its reach. The anonymity an internet presence provides makes bullies bolder, and worse still, they can reach their victims anywhere and at any time. According to the Cyberbullying Research Center, one-third of children in a typical classroom have experienced cyberbullying at some point in their lives and many other sources report even higher figures.
The alarming rise in this trend is largely connected to the fact that teens and children are spending more time online. The Pew Research Center reports that “95% of teens now have access to a smartphone and 45% say they are online ‘almost constantly’.” As a parent, it is only normal to be concerned about your kids’ exposure to cyberbullying. Over the past couple of decades, there have been numerous high-profile cases of cyberbullying leading to suicide. Your task as a parent becomes even more difficult when you consider the fact that 9 in 10 victims of cyberbullying do not inform a parent or any trusted adult.
While the seemingly simple solution would be to prevent them from having any access to the internet, there is no way to monitor their access at all times. Plus, you’ll be leaving them ill-prepared for adulthood when they have unlimited access. Instead of trying to create a utopia for your children, parents will find more success by teaching their children how to cope. Below are some recommended ways you can work to protect and support your kids in the event of cyberbullying.
Before It Happens: Prevent and Prepare
Set Healthy Boundaries
Completely blocking your children from accessing the internet is not a feasible solution to cyberbullying. Instead, it’s important to place appropriate restrictions on their access to technology as early as possible. When you set healthy limits early on, there is a lower chance they’ll become attached to their smartphones or computer in their adolescent years.
Adherence to the age restrictions of social media platforms is a huge component of healthy boundaries. Facebook, for example, requires everyone to be 13 years old before they can open a Facebook account. In addition, you could also activate the parental control features on their computer and other smart devices. There are many great apps for safely monitoring children’s online activities with the purpose of allowing them the freedom to be on the internet and social media platforms while still ensuring safety.
Keep the Communication Channels Open
Honest, open communication is critical for a healthy parent-child relationship. As a parent, you should ensure your children feel comfortable talking with you regarding anything, and work to really listen to what they have to say. By creating an open dialogue using two-way communication, they are more likely to open up to you if they are experiencing any challenges in the future.
You should also make a specific effort to talk to them about bullying at school or cyberbullying and let them know how you would support them if they experience it. While it can be difficult to find the right time to broach the topic, you can utilize related topics to speak with them. Perhaps, there might be a national or personal story about bullying and you could use that opportunity to get your child’s thoughts and feelings on the issue. It’s important to remember you kids are evolving and assimilating a wide variety of new experiences so the important dialogues shouldn’t be a one-time thing; rather they should be ongoing so you can learn their new perspectives.
During: Spot and Stop
Look Out for Behavioral Changes
Even after working diligently to keep the communication channels open, there is no guarantee that your kids would come to you if they are experiencing cyberbullying. As a parent, you should monitor for changes in behavior that may suggest they are struggling emotionally. Perhaps they have become socially averse, or they no longer enjoy activities they previously enjoyed. You should be prepared to talk to them and intervene when necessary.
Keep Tabs of Their Online Time
If there is a sudden uptick in your child’s online time, or you notice they’ve become more emotional whenever they are utilizing their phone or computer, you might be right to suspect cyberbullying. Talk to them about their emotions and let them know why you are concerned. Directly checking their private conversations is almost never a good idea as they would likely feel you’ve betrayed their trust and conversely it might result in them becoming even more secretive. However, it may be a necessary measure in certain scenarios if you suspect something serious is occurring and your child refuses to talk with you about it. Whatever you do, it’s important to be honest about why you’re doing it and remind your child know that your actions are motivated by love and wanting to keep them safe.
After: Help Them Cope
If your child is being cyberbullied, resist judgmental or impulsive emotional reactions. This is not the appropriate time to revisit all your warnings about their excessive use of the internet. Rather, it’s the time to remain calm and show them you’ll always be around to help. Here are a few things to consider that might help:
As a parent, you owe your children the duty of protection, both online and offline. Cyberbullying is one of the online hazards they may need help with and learning the appropriate warning signs and response is essential to keeping them safe. For more information about cyberbullying and other digital parenting tips, consider joining networks like the Family Online Safety Institute.