Thanks to the rise of connected devices and the expansive internet, cyberbullying is a much bigger problem now than it was 20 years ago. Kids and teens spend a lot of time online: 92 percent of kids now have access to the Web every day and nearly a quarter report that they have signed up “regularly.” In some cases, these numbers may add to the real effects of the real world. Not only do these so-called “hyper-networking” teens share more personal information on social media profiles, and they also have a 110 percent higher risk of cyberbullying compared to their peers. Last year alone, one million children and young people were harassed on Facebook alone, with 87 percent reporting witnessing or dealing with harmful online behaviour. Today, cyberbullying is also linked to a number of mental health problems, including depression, substance abuse, and suicide.
While it is easy for parents to think of taking drastic measures in an effort to prevent unintended consequences, completely cutting off children from social media does not prepare them for adulthood. Instead of trying to protect them from all online dangers, we can use social media as a tool to teach healthy relationships and communication skills – both on the Web and in the face.
Below are ten tips to protect your children from the harmful effects of cyberbullying: before, during, and after conflicts.
Set healthy technology limits as quickly as possible.
Set appropriate limits and permissions on the use of technology as soon as children have access to electronics. Setting appropriate limits on time can prevent children from becoming overly attached to their computers and phones over time, and it encourages them to develop a sense of self-worth without their digital identity. This makes it easier for children to avoid harmful or harmful online communications as they grow older.
Give your child an open line of communication.
Encourage your son or daughter to come to you with questions about his or her relationship at school and/or work online. If they raise the issue of access to their own phone, computer or social media account, discuss the rights – and obligations – associated with that right. Together, you can create a “Declaration of Rights and Responsibilities” with details of what behaviour your child can accept and display online.
Look for times that can be taught – and be open to reading with your children.
If appropriate, discuss personal or national issues related to cyberbullying, privacy, and other online and family dangers. Use these events as icebreakers in discussions about what’s online and what’s wrong – and what you and your child can do in the midst of an insecure environment. Ask your child how he or she would respond to certain situations, and invite him or her to comment on how you can best help him or her with any online problems. Remember that both of your answers may change as your children grow older, so keep these discussions going.
Develop an awareness and understanding environment around mental illness.
Children with depression, anxiety, and other psychological problems are often the target of bullying, and embarrassment and secrecy can make things worse. Fortunately, you can help eradicate these diseases from your home by educating yourself and your children about their causes and effects. Emphasize that mental illness is the same as any other because it revolves around physical changes – in this case, changes in brain chemistry. If your child or someone they know is suffering from a mental illness, make sure you get the right help – and emphasize that their symptoms do not make you a bad person or have faults. Creating a positive attitude can eliminate prejudice where it matters most: your home.
Monitor behavioural changes.
Divorce, withdrawal, and prohibition of activities or social conditions your child enjoyed in the past can all be red flags for cyberbullying. Unless it is a serious matter, however, it is rarely advised to betray your child’s trust by scratching through text messages or confidential communications without his or her knowledge. This can easily get back on track and lead to even more secret behaviours.
Keep track of how much time your child spends online, or on his or her devices.
If you see something happening on the Internet, or you notice that your child seems overbearing or emotionally on his or her phone or computer, it could be a warning sign. If you need to check your child’s online account, but do not have a pre-agreement when your child knows you can do so, it is usually best to discuss your concerns and plans with them in advance (or soon thereafter, if the situation is really urgent). State why you feel or feel the need to take action and involve them in finding out what to do next.
Respond calmly and kindly.
If your child is setting an example for cyberbullying or unsafe online activity, the first thing you should do is thank him or her for sharing your concerns. After that, you will work together to decide how you can move forward.
Find time for conversation.
If you notice any behavioural or emotional changes, go to the subject during periods of low stress, privacy when you and your child have time and space to communicate freely. Try to keep things simple and not judgmental as much as possible. It may be helpful to review what you want to say to your child ahead of time.
Ask them what they want.
If your child is experiencing emotional distress as a result of an online situation, ask him about the outcome, and work together to think of a solution.
Think of the big picture.
Consider helping to organize student-led events and cyberbullying programs, and discuss current events with school administrators. These programs can help to create awareness and engage students.
Online bullying is a serious problem and it can often be hard for parents to know what to do. Use this list of helpful tips to support your child as they experience cyberbullying. You can help prevent it from happening and help your child cope with it if it happens to them.