Bullying has morphed into something more ominous than it was when we were growing up. Gone are the days when it only occurred face-to-face during school hours or while playing outside in the neighborhood after school. Now, thanks to electronic devices and social media, bullying can happen anywhere 24-hours a day, 7 days a week. A child sitting alone in his or her room can log on to social media and realize that he or she is the target of the latest joke.
Sadly, cyberbullying is affecting more and more of our children each year. According to dosomething.org, nearly 43% of teens have been bullied online and 25% of those kids say it has happened to them more than once. “Mean text messages or emails, rumors sent by email or posted on social networking sites, and embarrassing pictures, videos, websites, or fake profiles” are all examples of cyberbullying (stopbullying.org). Because of its far reach, it’s almost impossible for our children to escape the effects of cyberbullying—whether they themselves are the bully, the bullied, or the observer. The good news is that we as parents and caregivers can do something to stop it.
Communicate openly and honestly about bullying with your children. Explain to them that writing or posting things that are hurtful or unkind can have lasting negative effects. The saying about sticks and stones simply isn’t true. A broken bone hurts for a while, but in time it heals. The damage caused by words, however, is often more difficult to erase. Remind your children of the importance of treating others the way they want to be treated. That sometimes means resisting the urge to talk about someone in a hurtful way or laugh along with someone else who has.
Talk with your children about permanence of what they write and post. “Deleting inappropriate or harassing messages texts, and pictures is extremely difficult once they have been posted or sent.” So it’s best not to post or send them.
Regularly monitor your child’s use of electronics. Be mindful of what your children are doing online and be sure to establish clear rules about their use of technology. It’s also a great idea to set parental controls to help them stay away from sites they may not be mature enough to use. You should know your children’s passwords to their phones and every form of social media you allow them to use. Explain to your children that as their parent one of your primary responsibilities is to make sure they are protected. Let them know that you will randomly monitor their text messages and other online communication to make sure that both your children and those they interact with are behaving appropriately and responsibly.
Ask a trusted friend or relative to be an extra set of eyes for you. Ask them to “follow” your children’s social media pages and let you know if they see anything questionable that may need addressing.
Intervene immediately. If you notice that your child is being cyberbullied, pause for a moment to see if your child is able to work things out with their peers. However, don’t assume he or she can work it out alone. Be sure your child feels (and is) safe by having a conversation with him or her. If you notice that your child is being physically threatened, don’t assume the threats are empty words. Inform school administrators about what you have seen and partner with them to stop it from happening. In addition to reporting the threats to school administrators, in need be report them to law enforcement as well. Again, protecting your child’s physical and emotional well-being is one of your primary roles as a parent.
If you find out that your child is the bully, don’t ignore the issue. Talk with him or her about what you have seen and the lasting effects their behavior can have. Talk with them about your concerns and apply firm consequences to discourage them from saying or posting hurtful things in the future.
If your child is neither the bully nor the one being bullied, but you discover that they have laughed at unkind things said by a bully, talk about it. Let your child know that they have a responsibility to help end inappropriate and hurtful behavior. Instigating is still participating. Provide your child with alternatives. For example, he or she can discourage the bully from being unkind (if they are friends) or your child can anonymously tell school officials when they see that someone has been bullied.
Cyberbullying is a very real issue. As parents and caregivers we play a vital role in stopping it. One key thing to remember is that our children are watching us. We are role models to our children and others. They are paying attention to the unkind memes we repost and the gossip we share with our friends. They pay attention to the things we laugh about and they hear the unkind things we say about others. Let’s be a good example for our children. They are depending on us. Let’s commit to talk, post, email, and text responsibly!
For additional information about online safety and cyberbullying, check out these great resources:
For Young Children: http://www.pacerkidsagainstbullying.org/kab/what-is-bullying/carmens-advice/