Unfortunately, bullying is part of the challenges associated with technologies. Cyberbullying involves the use of electronic communication to bully a person, by sending intimidating and threatening messages.
In times past, some children were only subjected to bullying in school but between the rise of connected devices and the ever-growing Internet of Things, cyberbullying has become an issue.
This is made even worse by the hours children and teens spend online. According to statistics, seven in 10 young people experience cyberbullying before they reach the age of 18 and the most common type of harassment are mean comments.
These days, young children and teens share more personal information on their social media profiles – in a craze to stay relevant on networking platforms – which exposes them to cyberbullying.
Cyberbullying has been linked to several mental health concerns such as depression, drug use, and even suicide in young children and teenagers.
For parents, protecting their children from cyberbullying might be a daunting task, especially if they do not understand how cyberbullying works or the menacing issues it can create.
Unfortunately, parents are often the last ones to know about problems because their kids fear getting into more trouble.
While completely cutting young kids off from social media might seem like the easiest and best thing for parents to do to protect them from cyberbullying, it doesn’t help them grow into resilient individuals ready to take on the barrage of abuse the world throws both online and offline.
It is therefore imperative as parents to be involved in your child’s digital life and also understand how digital devices and social networking sites work.
Below, according to experts, are 10 ways to protect your kids from the effects of cyberbullying.
Set healthy boundaries early
The best time to protect your child from cyberbullying is before it even starts. According to cybersecurity expert, Jerry Thompson, to pre-empt these cyberbullying incidents, it is necessary to place restrictions and permissions on the use of internet-enabled devices in the home as soon as children can access electronics. He said,
“This can help forestall them from becoming overly attached to their computers and phones as they grow. Setting reasonable limits to access the internet can also help them develop themselves and have a healthy dose of self-worth independent of their digital identity.’’
Cultivate healthy, open communication
As parents, it is best if your child is comfortable talking to you about their insecurity and trust you can handle them. Let them know they can come to you for help if anything is inappropriate, upsetting, or dangerous.
Thompson stated that encouraging one’s child to come to one first with any question or doubt about their relationships at school and/or activity online could help protect them from cyberbullying. He noted,
“If they raise the issue of getting their phone, computer or social media account, discuss the rights—and responsibilities—that come with that privilege.
Together, you can create a “Declaration of Rights and Responsibilities” detailing what behaviour your child can accept and display online.”
Create teachable moments
It is safer to point out to your child cases of cyberbullying to teach them how to react and how not to if they are faced with such a problem. It is also important to teach them how to protect their online privacy at a young age. Thomson says,
“When appropriate, discuss personal or national stories about cyberbullying, privacy, and other online risks with the whole family. Use these events as icebreakers for conversations about what is and isn’t okay online—and what you and your child can do during an unsafe situation.
“Ask how your child might respond to certain incidents, and invite feedback about how you can best help them with any issues online. It is important to note, however, that as your child ages, both of your responses are likely to change as well, so it is necessary to make this an ongoing conversation.”
Pay attention to child’s time online
It is necessary to monitor how much time your child spends online as it can help protect them from online bullies. Thompson said,
“If you spot an uptick in online activity, or note that your child seems increasingly or emotionally preoccupied with their phone or computer, it could be a warning sign.
If you do need to check your child’s online account, but don’t have a prior agreement where your child knows you might do so, it’s usually best to discuss your concerns and plans with them beforehand (or immediately afterwards, if the situation is truly urgent).
Express why you feel or felt it was necessary to take action and involve them in figuring out what to do next.”
Monitor sudden behavioural changes
Look out for any sudden behavioural changes in your child as they might be warning signs of something deeper. Thompson added,
“Isolation, withdrawal, and aversion to activities or social situations your child previously enjoyed can all be red flags for cyberbullying.
Unless it’s an extreme circumstance, though, it’s rarely advisable to betray your child’s trust by scrolling through their text messages or private communications without their knowledge. This can easily backfire and lead to even more secretive behaviour.”
One of the fears of young children is the reaction of their parents when they find out something is wrong with them. Sometimes, some parents even blame their children even for events that are beyond the child’s control.
In the case of cyberbullying, it is best to thank your child for sharing their concern with you and work together to find a lasting solution.
A childhood and internet safety education expert, Pattie Fitzgerald noted,
“If your child is being bullied, be supportive and understanding. Find out how long the bullying has been going on, who the bullies are and ensure that you’ll work together to find a solution. Let your child know they are not to blame for being bullied.”
Don’t tell your child to ‘shrug it off’
Many parents can’t properly handle cases of their children getting bullied, so they resort to underplaying the feelings of the child by asking them to either shrug it off or encouraging them to handle the bullies themselves. Fitzgerald stated,
“The emotional pain of being bullied is very real and can have long-lasting effects on children and teenagers. Don’t tease your child about getting bullied or respond with a “kids will be kids” attitude.”
Keep bullies’ record, report to their school
It is important to keep a record of the people who cyberbullied your child and what it was they said or did.
A bullying prevention advocate, Sherri Gordon, advised parents to save messages, comments, and posts as evidence. Gordon said,
“This includes emails, blog posts, social media posts, tweets, text messages, and so on. Although your child’s first reaction may be to delete everything, remind them that without evidence, you have no proof of cyberbullying.
After the evidence is gathered and you have talked to the school and the police, you should be able to delete comments.”
She noted that reporting the incidents was important if the cyberbullying occurred on the school premises, adding that it would help to easily identify and punish the bullies and possibly put a stop to the act.
Seek counselling, support
One of the biggest mistakes most parents whose child suffered cyberbullying make is to believe they can handle it by themselves. This might only further isolate the child, thus, making things worse. Gordon noted,
“Cyberbullying is a big issue that shouldn’t be handled alone. Surround your child with supportive friends and family. Remember, it helps to talk to someone about what is happening.
“Consider finding a professional counsellor to help your child heal. You also should have your child evaluated by a healthcare professional, especially if you notice changes in mood, sleeping habits, or eating habits.”
Engage in advocacy groups
As parents, it is better to look at the bigger picture if your child battles cyberbullying. Joining and organising events and seminars can help your child overcome cyberbullying including other children as well. Thompson stated,
“Consider helping to organise school-wide, student-led events and initiatives on cyberbullying, and discuss possible activities and events with school administrators.
These initiatives can help build awareness and engage students in combating social media risks in a proactive, positive way – without shining an unwanted spotlight on your child’s personal experiences.”
Sources: Parents, FamilyOnlineSafetyInstitute, KidsHealth, CentreforParentingEducation, PsychCentral