If there is one hot button topic among parents and students it is cyberbullying – what is it exactly, how to stop it (or is it even stoppable!), and why do young people do it. STOP Cyberbullying is a great online resource for anyone who is concerned about this topic. STOP Cyberbullying states:
“Cyberbullying” is when a child, preteen or teen is tormented, threatened, harassed, humiliated, embarrassed or otherwise targeted by another child, preteen or teen using the Internet, interactive and digital technologies or mobile phones.
When I speak to young people, I like calling it digital drama or internet drama – I’ve been told that only, “old people,” call cyberbullying, cyberbullying! In any case, while bullying in any form is unacceptable, intervening when cyberbullying occurs is difficult since the bullies, bystanders and victims often are shielded from each other through the distance of modern technology. Often bullies may become more vicious with their attacks since there is a lack of face-to-face interaction. In the past, victims could get respite from bullies when they left school to the safety of their homes. Now, bullying continues through Facebook wall posts, YouTube videos, text messages and other means of connecting via social networking sites all day long.
Cell phones and the internet are not going away any time soon! Did you know that:
So with all of these digital open doors in your home, how do you keep it safe for your child? Here are 5 tips to help keep your home a safe space:
1. Initiate talking about this topic. Young people may not go to you first! First and foremost, we want to let our children know that we take this problem seriously. Kids too often tell me that they do not want to tell the adults in their lives that they are victims or bystanders to bulling (of any kind) for fear of being told, “it’s not a big deal,” or being blamed for the problem. Pre-teens and older teens feel like they ‘should’ be able to handle it themselves. As the adults who care about them, our job is to keep them safe. Therefore regardless of age, we need to let them know that they can come to us without being judged or criticized. Find a teachable moment – hearing the news, watching a TV show that shows bullying or mentioning an article you read – and engaging in a conversation with your child is great start. Also, saying something short and to the point maybe more effective than a long talk. “If you ever felt like someone was saying mean things to you or you have seen something that upsets you, I’d want you to talk about it with me. I’d like to help you figure out what to do.” Find your own version of that talking point! So when you do have conversations with your child about this…
2. Emphasize that the expectations you have about their online behavior are the same as their off-line behavior. There have been countless news stories of teens hurting themselves over what other’s have written about them on social networking sites. I work with a teen and he showed me some of the comments written about him – I couldn’t imagine anyone saying those words out loud! Stress that what is typed online or via text should be things that they could say out loud. It would be a good time to remind a your child that what’s online is available to anyone, as if it was the headline of newspaper and it can be permanently accessible. Damaging messages and pictures can be forwarded, re-posted or emailed before someone has time to delete them. What one young person does impulsively on the internet may be spread to hundreds (and I’m not being dramatic) within a few seconds. The impulsivity of teens combined with the real time interactions over the internet/text messaging is recipe for disaster. It’s important then to…
3.Monitor all non-school related online time as you would any in-person socialization. It seems intuitive to do so but often parents are busy with running their homes that monitoring a child who is quietly online does not become a priority. I’m sure you’ve heard this before but I’ll type it anyways, regulate online time to common areas of the home so you can keep cognizant of what is happening while your child is online. I don’t promote spying behind your child’s back but a quick little check-in will let your child know that you are paying attention to what’s going on. For older teens who are entitled to somewhat more privacy, being friends/connections/followers with them on the sites they are on is a must. If you are concerned about the amount of time your child is online then…
4.Have a curfew on digital media in the home. Young people learn how to regulate their impulses by how we help them do it. Eventually, they psychically internalize how we have helped them manage their feelings and impulses, needing our help less. Just as we have curfews when our children go out of the home to socialize, they need social networking curfews as well. If you are concerned about the amount of time your child is online consider taking away – and I mean having your child physically hand over – laptops, cell phones, iPod touches and any other digital technology that allows for online access at bedtime to let your child unplug. For older children you may want to install this site – it is free software that will block email and specified websites for a period of time. Ironically, a high school student told me about this site since she had a hard time staying off the internet while doing homework! While not the cause of every teens late night online activity, one young person I work with said she would stay up until 2:00 am to respond to comments on social networking sites. Lastly…
5. Consider getting your child a phone that only rings. Remember those? The average age a child gets a cell phone is 12-13. As arcane as it maybe, I strongly encourage parents to consider their child’s first cell phone to be a basic one not a smart phone. Giving a 12 year-old an iPhone (and I’ve seen kids as young as 10 with iPhones!) as their first phone is giving them a computer and camera in their hand all day…without you around to monitor them. At 12 years-old, the ability to manage all the stimulus a smart phone has is overwhelming. As for text messages, I think it’s a good way for parents and children to keep in contact throughout the day but phone calls are better. And yes, you should have a limit on the amount of messages your child’s phone can send.
I hope you find some of these tips helpful! If you have a tip you’d like to share, please do!
Phone message photo available from Shutterstock.
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From Psych Central's website:
Choking You’re Child’s Bully, Lowering Facebook’s Age Restrictions and Why this is a ‘Win’ for Cyberbullies. | Beating the Bully: Cope with Bullying At Any Age (June 5, 2012)
From Psych Central's website:
Facebook Stepping Up Against Cyberbullying | Beating the Bully: Cope with Bullying At Any Age (July 13, 2012)
From Psych Central's website:
High School Quarterback Steps Up! | Beating the Bully: Cope with Bullying At Any Age (November 9, 2012)
Last reviewed: 6 May 2012