Friday, August 16th, 2013
Last year my third grade daughter had an online component to her homework that included a chat feature. While the kids were excited about their first exposure to social networking, it was something that I watched with a wary eye knowing that innocent conversations of saying hi could quickly turn and result in hurt feelings. Luckily the kids and the teacher were good digital citizens and their interactions were innocent but cyberbullying is real and something for kids, parents, and teachers to be aware of, especially if class assignments include an online chat component.
Here’s a primer on cyberbullying- what it is, how do you know if your child is a victim, the kinds of things we need to teach our kids, and what we can do to maintain digital wellness in our families while we teach our kids to be responsible digital citizens.
What is cyberbullying?
- Bullying behaviors are the same on or offline. It is hurting others’ feelings online and ranges from people making jokes that are hurtful to others, teasing, or even when someone logs into someone else’s account and pretends to be them.
- Cyberbullying can happen at any time and be very public because lots of people can see and share public messages online.
- Kids can use more hurtful and extreme language on and offline because they can hide behind the veil of an avatar. They say things they might not say in person because they feel they’re more anonymous.
- The only main difference between cyberbullying and bullying is the kind of harm that can be caused. Bullying involves physical harm but both types cause kids emotional harm that leads to discomfort, embarrassment, feelings of helplessness, sadness, and anger.
How do you know if your child is a victim of cyberbullying? Parents know their child best and can often spot when something may be off but the National Crime Prevention Council encourages parents to look for the following behaviors:
- Emotionally a child becomes shy or withdrawn, depressed, moody, agitated, anxious, stressed or aggressive.
- Academic changes include not wanting to go to school, skipping school, lack of interest in school and a drop in grades.
- Socially and behaviorally, a child isolates themselves from others. These behaviors can include not using the computer to log on to favorite social networks, changes in eating and sleeping habits, changes friends, and physically hurting themselves.
What can you teach your child to prevent them from being a perpetrator or victim? Help your children be emotionally well in order to be digitally well. Teach them respect and create open lines of communication so they know it’s ok to come to a parent or adult without the threat of always getting in trouble. Here are important concepts to teach kids of all ages:
- Empathy. Kids who are empathetic can identify with someone’s feelings are less likely to be perpetrators of cyberbullying.
- Help them understand where the line is between funny and mean. This line can be crossed in a nanosecond without being intentionally harmful but misunderstandings happen. Instead of letting the problem fester online, take the conversation offline and have your child call a friend or talk face to face to clear up the misunderstanding and preserve the friendship.
- Make sure they talk to someone, even if it’s not you. Talking to a responsible adult- parent of a friend, aunt or uncle, teacher, counselor, coach, etc.- is better than not talking to anyone. Discuss who the responsible adults are in your child’s life that they might be able to trust with any information.
- Encourage kids to stand up and get involved. Cyberbullying often involves the bully, victim, and a lot of bystanders. Kids need to be brave and get involved to make the bully stop by not engaging with them online while seeking help offline. Help them become an upstander- not a bystander. Encourage them to get involved.
What else can parents do?
- Set expectations. The minimum age for being on social networks is 13 and many kids clamor for accounts for their 13th birthdays. It’s ultimately up to the parents to decide whether their kids are ready but if they are, it’s important to set expectations about why you’re going to monitor their FB page. Parents can tell their children that they may have a Facebook account as long as I have the password. A tool like MinorMonitor can be helpful since it automatically tells parents what kids post and who their friends are so they can keep an eye on things.
- Know that these conversations aren’t just happening on the computer. With mobile devices, cyberbullying can easily happen on a smartphone, a connected iPod Touch, or tablet. Parents can tell their kids that a phone is a privilege and if they’re paying for service, they have the right to review texts manually or use apps like those from Safely.com, which gives parents easy-to-digest text and app reports and the power to block contacts and phone access, and support and resources, like a phone contract, which helps get conversations started.
Additional resources for parents include:
- CommonSenseMedia.org for parents to become educated about cyberbullying. Features helpful tips on starting conversations, what to look for, how to help your kids
- Netsmartz.org is a program by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children that helps parents and kids navigate issues like cyberbullying but also sexting, social networking, online and mobile safety, and smartphones in age appropriate ways. The site is broken up for kids, tweens, and teens and does a fantastic job of presenting information to kids in a way they’ll understand.
More helpful articles from Parents.com:
- 5 Internet and Mobile Safety Resource for Families
- 4 Safe Social Networking Sites for Kids
- Age Appropriate Resources to Keep Kids Cybersafe
- 5 Ways to Empower Children Against Bullying
- Preschool Play vs. Bullying? 4 Things Parents Should Look For
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