Sticks and stones may break bones, but words can definitely hurt just as bad, if not worse than some physical altercations. Although we have access to the greatest bank of information ever compiled, we also live in an era where we can say whatever we want to whoever we want under the thick veil of anonymity. It is so important to talk to our kids about cyberbullying before it happens. The best cyberbullying prevention involves making sure children understand what is happening and that they know they can get help handling the cyberbully.
Computers, tablets and predominately cell phones have become the medium by which kids target and are targeting in a multitude of disturbing ways. In fact, according to Dosomething.org, 41 percent of children have been bullied online, and an alarming number have had it happen more than once. Even more startling is the fact that 80 percent of children have been witness to cyberbullying. Although it’s impossible to track how many of this 80 percent did something about it, it’s safe to say that most of them didn’t do much. This leaves parents and leaders responsible to step up and stop this devastating trend. It’s time to teach our kids how to navigate the perils of the online world.
Today’s kids are more connected than ever. Consider that your standard satellite television service has more than 285 channels, it’s hard to keep track of what type of content your kids are exposed to on the television, let alone the Internet. But monitoring your children online has never been more important. Cyberbullying isn’t something we had to deal with, but it’s a harsh reality for our children.
Montana is the only state in the union that doesn’t have anti-bullying laws on the books, and New Jersey has the toughest in the country. New Jersey enacted the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights in 2011, following a number of cyberbullying-related suicides that happened across the country.
Talk About The Dangers of Strangers & CyberBullies
According to Lifelock, it isn’t just cyberbullies targeting our children. Youth is the fastest growing demographic for identity theft and other online crimes as well. The Internet can be nearly impossible to patrol, and the more unsafe-surfing is done, the more vulnerable children end up being. That doesn’t mean you should stand over your kid’s shoulder the entire time they’re surfing online. It just means that creating a dialog about the dangers of the Internet needs to be on the forefront of your parenting roster when they reach browsing age. A survey by Knowledge Masters found that less than half of parents monitor the sites their children look up. Kids tend to know this and end up treating the Internet like a limitless playground.
Lead By Example
Parents can play the role of the enforcer all they want, but leading by example is just as important. If you find yourself tempted to leave a mean anonymous comment on a blog, or shoot down a stranger for saying something you disagree with online think to yourself whether you would say that to the person in real life. If the answer is no, then don’t. The nature of online communication causes what John Suler, author of The Psychology of Cyberspace, calls disassociative anonymity. This means that you can say whatever you want online without repercussions you can get the same power high many achieve by putting others down, but without having to deal with the nitty-gritty of the effect it has on the other human.
Teach Kids To Avoid Being A Cyberbully
Teaching kids and teens to deflect attacks with humor or strength of character is an important tactic, as is simply ignoring the bully. Although there is no one course of action to take that prevents or softens the blow of a cyberbully, parents can talk to their kids about the importance of character and matching their actions to the character they want to be. The most important things to for your kids to remember while using the Internet are:
- Be respectful: Don’t say anything you wouldn’t want said to you
- Don’t victimize or generally be mean (if they don’t know what being mean means, you’ve got a whole different book of problems to deal with)
- If you see something, say something
- Stand up for yourself without being a jerk
- Never reveal any personal information online: Assume that the whole school is watching you online that’s a good rule of thumb for monitoring behavior
- Using the Internet is a privilege; it isn’t a birthright, so don’t treat it as such!
- Teach them to know what cyberbullying is and talk to you about it if it happens.
What Cyberbullying Looks Like:
Fox News reports that 88 percent of teenagers have encountered cyberbullying in their lives, whether it’s been directed at them or someone close to them. Cyberbullying can take many forms; sometimes the bully posts embarrassing photos around a child’s social network, and other times the bully makes abusive comments on sites like Facebook. Some cyberbullies make malicious comments and manipulate the targets friends by using a fake profile on a social network.
No matter what form cyberbullying takes, it can lead to self-esteem issues, behavioral problems and depression.
The first thing to watch for is drastic changes in behavior. While this can be hard to monitor at times—given how many emotional changes children and teens go through—some things to look for include:
- Aversion to social networking and texting
- Eating more or less
- Marked differences in sleeping schedule
- Inability to concentrate
- Acting out in school
What To Do If Your Child Is Cyberbullied
Talk to your children. Ask what’s bothering them and be proactive about protecting them. Monitor their social network profiles and block people who harass them. Your child should also know it is safe for them to come to you with questions or concerns at any time. It may be appropriate to reach out to school officials if cyberbullying is coming from a known source at your child’s school. If your child is being bullied, get help at stopbullying.org
I hope you find these tips helpful for being aware of the cyberbullying problem and trying to avoid and deal with things as they come up. It’s tough protecting your children in a connected world, but when you’re forthright and involved with open lines of communication, it makes it harder for the cyberbullies to win.