With the rapid advancement of technology, bullying behavior has become a part of many children’s experience online. Cyberbullying is when the Internet, cell phones, or other devices are used to send or post text or images intended to hurt or embarrass another person. It encompasses a range of activities from sending emails or text messages to someone who has requested no further contact with the sender, but may also include threats, sexual harassment, inappropriate photos, and ridiculing someone publically in online forums. Some children who cyberbully may post lies, rumors or gossip about the target and encourage others to share and distribute that information.
Many parents are particularly concerned about cyberbullying because while adults often have an understanding of the bullying that happens face to face, using technology to hurt someone else may be a new phenomenon for them. While cyberbullying is still less common than traditional bullying, it can be particularly damaging because it:
At the same time, many parents are not active on the same websites or technology as their children and may not have knowledge of what their child is experiencing while online or on their phone.
Today’s children are the first generation to experience cyberbullying, and today’s parents are the first that must determine how to respond to it. Remember, giving children access to technology is much like sending them to a mall or school dance. Children have rules, curfews, and guidelines when they venture into the outside world – they also need them in the cyber world. Set the rules, establish the parameters, and learn the technology. In fact, let your children show you how the technology works.
As you venture into this territory, consider these steps:
Now that you know bullying online is a real possibility, initiate the conversation. Bullying can be hard for children to talk about with their parents for many reasons. They might be embarrassed by what is happening, afraid that if they tell that it will get worse, or think it is their problem. Online bullying can add additional complications. Many students can recognize bullying when it happens in person, but students might not interpret the mean and hurtful behavior that happens on their computer or cell phone as bullying. Children often think that if they tell their parents they are being cyberbullied, their parent’s first reaction will be to “protect them” by removing their access to technology.
Open the subject for discussion, and tell your child:
You set safety rules for your child in the physical world. Do the same in your child’s cyberworld. Remind your children that they never know who is on the other end of cyber communication. It could be the person they think it is, but because they cannot see that person, they should always proceed with caution in their exchanges.
With that in mind, here are two good guidelines: “Don’t do or say anything online that you wouldn’t do or say in person," and, "Don’t reveal anything online that you wouldn’t tell a stranger.” Specific advice for your child might include:
Privacy is important, but safety is more important. As a parent, you have a responsibility to know what your child is doing online. Establish rules about your access to your child’s cell phones, text history, social networking sites, and other accounts they may use for posting information. Make decisions about passwords, how often you will check the accounts, and how inappropriate information will be handled.
Keep your child’s computer in an open area, such as the family room, where you can supervise your child’s Internet activity. Decide if there will be limits on access to using technology to communicate with peers, such as no computer or texting after 9 p.m., during meals, or until homework is done.
If you do discover that your child is experiencing cyberbullying, document it by printing the e-mails or web pages, saving electronic copies, and contacting your child’s school or the police.
Technology offers your children many advantages and benefits – and occasionally some risks. The solution is not to remove their access to technology, but to manage these risks. You can do that by being aware of your child’s cyber activities, learning about new technologies, and setting rules for your child’s online use.
Just a generation ago, teens were asking their parents for a phone in their room – maybe even one with a separate line or three-way calling – so they could connect with more friends. Today, a teen’s desire to connect with friends has not changed, but the options for doing so have grown tremendously. Children are not only asking for their own mobile phones at a younger age, but they also want access to popular social media sites, like Facebook, and apps such as Instagram. While these platforms offer teens the opportunity to share ideas, photos, videos, and more, they come with the need for social responsibility too.
Setting up a new account
When you and your 13-year-old decide it is time to set up a Facebook or Instagram account, you should consider the following:
While the majority of teenagers may never experience inappropriate behavior online, it is important to have a conversation about online safety with your child. When the doors of communication are open, if your teen becomes uncomfortable with someone’s online behavior, they will be more likely to:
If your teen tells you that they are being hurt, humiliated, or harassed on Facebook or Instagram, there are several steps they can take to make it stop. Share these tips with your child:
An important part of addressing a cyberbullying situation is keeping a record of what has happened. It’s tempting for children who are being cyberbullied to delete messages and other bullying content sent to them, especially if they are trying to ignore the bullying. But this can become problematic if you need to provide proof of the cyberbullying to school officials or law enforcement officials later on. Remember that if it isn’t in writing, it doesn’t exist.
How to capture evidence of cyberbullying:
Why can cyberbullying sometimes be more damaging than traditional bullying?
All of the above. While cyberbullying is still less common than traditional bullying, it can be particularly damaging because it can happen even after the child leaves school for the day, it can be anonymous, and it is frequently very public with a potentially unlimited audience. At the same time, many parents are not active on the same websites or technology as their children and may not have knowledge of what their child is experiencing while online or on their phone.
True or False: Any information your child puts online or on their phone can be easily shared, copied, and pasted in other places.
True. Talk to your kids about their “digital footprint” and the fact that what goes online stays online. Make sure your kids know that any information they share online—photos, videos, emails, text messages and more—can be easily shared, copied and pasted in other places.
True or False: Many social media sites offer some sort of system to report bullying content.
True. Many social media sites such as Facebook and Instagram have systems to report bullying content. You can report any content that violates Facebook‘s Community Standards or Instagram’s Community Guidelines. Remember to give a clear description of where the content is. You may also want to take screenshots of any offending posts, photos, or conversations with the person who is bullying you. Facebook also offers the social reporting tool, which allows individuals to communicate directly with a person about the content they have posted that you don’t like.
True or False: If your child is being bullied online, you should immediately delete all of the bullying messages and posts.
False. It’s tempting for children who are being cyberbullied to delete messages and other bullying content sent to them, especially if they are trying to ignore the bullying. But this can become problematic if you need to provide proof of the cyberbullying to school officials or law enforcement officials later on. Remember that if it isn’t in writing, it doesn’t exist. If your child is being cyberbullied online, it’s important to take screenshots of bullying content on a phone or computer. Save emails, messages, texts or photos.