It's a tough job to look out for your little one if you're in the dark about cyberbullying or haven't witnessed it firsthand. Parents need to be the ones their kids can open up to when things take a turn for the worse.
But here's the kicker: Kids often keep these things hidden because they fear getting into more trouble.
So, it's a real juggling act for parents to strike the right balance and create an open line of communication.
Given how common this issue has been lately, there's a good chance that cyberbullying might eventually impact your child's life somehow. That's why parents must get clued in on:
- How to identify it
- What steps you can take to prevent it
- The most effective ways to respond to cyberbullying
Here are some ways you can recognize, prevent, and respond to cyberbullying, keeping your child safe from any such issues:
What is Cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying is repeatedly posting, sending, or spreading untrue or mean content online to hurt or humiliate another person. In some cases, it can even cross the line into being a criminal offense.
Any place people gather online to exchange information is fair game for cyberbullying. The most common spots include:
- Social media posts (we don't allow our kids to have social media accounts)
- Forum discussions
- Gaming chats
- In-app messaging
- Text messages
Just like traditional bullying, cyberbullying usually involves someone picking on another person as a way to make themselves feel better about their own issues. But, the Internet's anonymity makes it a lot easier for people to attack others without worrying about facing any consequences.
Parents need to be aware of cyberbullying laws in their area, as they can provide legal recourse and protection for their children if they fall victim to online harassment.
Detecting Signs of Cyberbullying
Parents of middle and high school kids can find it a bit of a challenge to stay informed about what's happening in their youngsters' online lives. But, there are some signs that might raise the flag for cyberbullying.
Indications Your Child Might Be a Cyberbullying Target:
- They stop using their device out of nowhere.
- They're getting a bit uneasy while using it.
- They're keen to dodge school and don't want to go out either.
- They don't want to talk about what they do online.
- They'd rather hang out with the family than their peers.
Indications Your Child Might Be Engaging in Cyberbullying:
- They go to great lengths to keep their screen hidden from your view.
- You notice they have multiple accounts or are using someone else's account.
- Their behavior at school takes a turn for the worse.
- They start to associate with a dodgy group of friends.
- Getting all hung up on their social status and popularity.
Remember that these signs could also signal other issues, like depression or social anxiety, which are pretty common among teenagers.
Cybersafety isn't as simple as teaching your kid to ride a bike. It's not a skill you had back in the day that you can just hand down.
It's a field where things are shifting and evolving rapidly, so as a parent, you must keep reinforcing and updating your knowledge and strategies to keep your children safe online.
Here are some ways you can mitigate the risk of your child becoming the target:
Initiate Frequent and Open Discussions About Cyberbullying
Help your youngsters recognize cyberbullying by teaching them what's acceptable and what's not online. It's mostly common sense, like knowing it's wrong to tell lies about people. Ensure they learn that spreading lies about people online is just as wrong.
On the flip side, if someone's spreading lies or rumors about them on the web, let them know it's perfectly fine to reach out to someone for help.
Cyberbullying often blows up because the bullied person tries to defend themselves instead of reporting it.
Also, introduce the concept of being an “upstander”—someone who takes a stand against bullies. Explain to your kids why reporting and flagging any online behavior that seems harsh or mean is crucial.
Join in the Social Network with a “Lurk-Only” Mode
To get a real handle on what's happening in the social networking scene, consider hopping on a social networking website yourself. Your kids might not be too keen on accepting your friend request, but they might be more open to it if you promise to be a “lurker” and not an active participant.
Being a “lurk-only” parent means you're just quietly observing without jumping into your child's online chats all the time. If you constantly insert yourself into their conversations, there's a good chance they'll set up a secret account you can't keep tabs on as easily.
Educate Your Children on the Importance of Data Privacy
One of the nastiest forms of cyberbullying is when a bully takes over another student's account, locks them out, and then pretends to be the victim.
When your child regains control of their account, their name and reputation might be dragged through the mud all over the Internet.
To ensure your child's account doesn't get hijacked, teach them the importance of keeping personal information under wraps. Team up with your youngster to create a strong password that their friends wouldn't be able to guess.
Furthermore, as a parent, you can take an active role in safeguarding your child's online privacy by monitoring their online activities and setting privacy settings on social media platforms to limit the exposure of personal information to strangers.
Here are some tips: mix up uppercase and lowercase letters, toss in symbols and numbers, or even turn a mnemonic phrase into a password. That'll give them a leg up in the security department.
Also, consider using a password manager. A password manager is great for managing multiple passwords without remembering them all.
Trusty password managers go the extra mile by monitoring your passwords and alerting you if there are any security breaches or leaks.
How Should Parents Respond to Cyberbullying?
When your kid opens up about being cyberbullied, you need to take some action. You need to put a stop to the bullying and make sure your child's emotional well-being is looked after:
Take Your Child's Cyberbullying Concerns Seriously
Cyberbullies are pretty crafty at making their targets feel shaky. So, when your child confides in you about it, do not add to their self-doubt by downplaying their concerns. Instead, show your appreciation for them doing the right thing by reaching out to you.
Reassure Your Child It's Not Their Fault for Cyberbullying
Cyberbullies often pick on others to make themselves feel more powerful, but your kid needs to understand that the issue lies with the bully, not them. No one should face unfair treatment.
It's a bit of a silver lining for those getting bullied online to know that the bully's behavior reflects more on them than on the one being targeted.
Familiarize Yourself with Local Cyberbullying Laws
You need to learn your child's legal rights as a cyberbullying victim. The laws can be a bit different in each state, and not all have specific cyberbullying rules. So, have a chat with your local police department for all the information.
And if there's no particular law for cyberbullying, there might still be some general anti-bullying laws that could come into play. Plus, in some cases, you could even take those cyberbullies or their parents to court in a civil case.
Report to the School
If the bully goes to the same school as your child, you can tell the school admins, and they can set up a chat to sort things out. They can also keep a closer eye on your child to ensure the bullying doesn't keep happening while they're at school.
Involve the Parents
Don't hesitate to reach out to cyberbully's parents to try and sort things out (if you know who the person is). But if you don't have concrete evidence pointing to a specific kid, confronting them and giving their parents a direct earful might not be the best idea.
Instead, think about giving them a call or dropping them an email and politely ask for their help in resolving the situation.
Cyberbullying isn't just an online thing—it can spill over into the real world and follow your kids wherever they roam. This growing problem can affect anyone, so parents should know how to spot and put a stop to cyberbullying before it gets out of hand.
Always set a good example for your kids. Help them understand the good and the bad side of the online world. If you keep your cool and avoid angry words in your posts and replies, they're more likely to follow suit.
Chat with them about the right way to deal with disagreements in a healthy manner—or when to just let it slide.