Cyberbullying is a very real threat; it has been linked to self-harm and suicide among teens. And the number of apps kids have access to that parents aren’t even aware of grows by the day. The truth is, you can’t know everything your kids are doing online. But you can educate them, insulate them, and prepare them so that if they find themselves in an unsafe situation, they can navigate it.
Cyberbullying can be anything from teasing, harassing, intimidating and name-calling to broadcasting private images or threatening another person. Cyberbullying can happen on instant messaging, through social media, on apps like kik, and in emails. Cyber bullies are not just boys; some of the worst offenses I’ve seen have been from girls.
Communication & Education
Teach your kids how to protect themselves:
- Teach them not to connect with people they don’t know
- Educate them about the permanence of posts – they live forever, even on SnapChat, because screenshots make everything permanent (just ask our politicians)
- Give them a gut guide: if they wouldn’t want you to see it, they shouldn’t share it or post it
- Tell someone the minute cyberbullying starts; don’t let it get out of hand
Not only is it important to teach our kids how to treat people kindly, but we need to teach them how to recognize cyberbullying when it happens. They need to understand the ramifications of sharing (even privately) a picture or message – that with a simple screenshot, anything they do or say can be made very, very public. Parents need to set the right example – and cyberbullying can happen among adults. We’ve shown our children that when someone uses social media to be mean or unkind that it’s easy enough to disconnect from them, unfriend them, or block them. We’ve talked to them explicitly about situations that have happened – kids getting arrested for sexting, teens committing suicide after being cyberbullied, etc., so that they understand the seriousness of it.
Warning Signs of Cyberbullying (from stopbullying.gov)
Many of the warning signs that cyberbullying is occurring happen around a child’s use of their device. Some of the warning signs that a child may be involved in cyberbullying are:
- Noticeable increases or decreases in device use, including texting.
- A child exhibits emotional responses (laughter, anger, upset) to what is happening on their device.
- A child hides their screen or device when others are near, and avoids discussion about what they are doing on their device.
- Social media accounts are shut down or new ones appear.
- A child starts to avoid social situations, even those that were enjoyed in the past.
- A child becomes withdrawn or depressed, or loses interest in people and activities.
Cyberbullying is a serious problem, but if you talk to your kids, monitor their time online and pay attention to what apps they are using, you can protect them. Schools, parents, and the community can all play a part in making cyberbullying a thing of the past.