Mom and Dad, wake up: If you assume your child is using that fancy home computer or smartphone to stimulate his brain or connect with friends, think again. Sadly too many kids are using their keyboards to send vile, hateful and highly slanderous messages about their peers through the Internet or have received them. Once confined to playgrounds, bullying has hit cyberspace, cell phones and pagers, and it’s both serious and sophisticated. So how do you protect your child from cyberbullying? The first step is for parents to get educated about electronic bullying. This horrific form of bullying can happen 24 hours a day on your child’s cell phone, computer or tablet and anywhere. Stopbullying.gov defines cyberbullying as the following:
Cyberbullying is bullying that takes place using electronic technology.Electronic technology includes devices and equipment such as cell phones, computers, and tablets as well as communication tools including social media sites, text messages, chat, and websites.
Where we once thought we just had to protect children from adult predators using the Internet, we now need to shield kids from one another. The 2013 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey finds that 15% of high school students (grades 9-12) were electronically bullied in the past year. Though stats can vary from source to source, here are just a few reasons why we must stay educated gathered from various sources.
- 80% of teenagers regularly use a cell phone. This is the generation who would rather text than talk
- 90% of teens who’ve have seen social media bullying say they have ignored it
- Almost one-fifth (18%) of parents believe their child has encountered online behavior they would consider aggressive or unpleasant between 1 and 5 times in the past year
- 73% of teens have shared personal information or potentially inappropriate content
- 71% of teens admit they hide their online activity from their parents
- 16% of teens have social media accounts set up to automatically include their location
Cyberbullying is most common around the middle school years, but is making its way into the younger set. Kids now a days are electronically savvy, but make no mistake: the behavior is all about intentionally causing another pain (bullying), and parents must be far more vigilante. The three biggest mistakes adults make are not taking children’s complaints seriously, not being educated about online issues, and having a “not my kid” attitude. There are some specific ways to protect kids from bullying both in cyberspace and on the playground. Parents today need a closer “electronic leash” on their kids and need to be more tuned into the cyberspace trend. This isn’t about being controlling–this is good parenting. The good news is that a recent study found that teaching children about unsafe online behavior and cyberbullying can actually reduce the impact. Parents do make a difference! You are the best firewall to protect your child in cyberspace. So here are solutions to start educating both you and your child about cyberbullying or what to do if your child has been cyberbullied.
1. Start “the talk.”
If your child isn’t talking about cyberbullying, don’t assume he hasn’t been affected. Start the discussion: “What have you heard about…?” “What are other kids saying…?” Let your child know you’re aware of this new trend and you are on the alert and are monitoring your digital devices.
2. State your values again and again and again
Never assume your child understands why cyberbullying is cruel and wrong. Take time to explain: “In this house we believe in kindness. I expect you to be kind.” Be clear on your values.
3. Set clear “electronic” rules
“Never put anything on a cell phone, I-Message, website, email or pager that is hurtful.” “Never send anything you wouldn’t want said about you.”
Research at the University of Maryland College of Education also found it helpful to teach kids thee KEEPS of Internet Safety: Keep safe, Keep away and Keep telling.
4. Save evidence
Tell your child if he ever receives something that is hurtful, slanderous, hateful, to save or print the message.
You may need it to identify the bully or contact their parents with evidence.
5. Block further communication
If your child is victimized change your phone number, password or e-mail account, and talk to your provider. Contact police for threats of violence and extortion.
6. Google your child
One simple tip is to periodically google your child’s name to see what (if anything) is being posted online. Just go to Google then put your child’s name in quotation marks and see if something comes up. Google can also send you email alerts.
7. Monitor that computer and all digital devices
Keep your computer in a central space and out of your kid’s bedroom. Or at least let your child know that having a computer (phone, tablet or pager) is a PRIVILEGE and may be taken away when house rules or regulations are not followed. Let your child also know that you will log onto his account. If you tell your child upfront that you will be monitoring studies show kids are less likely to engage in risky behavior simply because they know they are being watched.
Monitoring is not the same as snooping or spying. Also do a random collect of your kids’ smartphones in which you simply ask them to “hand it over” so you can do a fast check. (Just watching your kids’ reaction could be enough to give you a red flag that something is up). Better yet, collect your kids cell phones each night (just place them in a basket or box) and return them the following day. Doing so will improve your child’s sleep – teens admit in confidential surveys that they are texting and talking after lights out and most of their parents are clueless.
Posting on any electronic devices is different than a child writing his or her private thoughts in a locked diary. Electronic posts are seen by the world and could well set your child up for victimization or losing a scholarship, school admission or job. Employers and school admission officials are checking teens’ social media networks.
8. Pull the plug
If your child ever uses a cell phone, pager, answering machine, or fax, to send vicious gossip or hate, remove the electronic gizmo from your kid and pull the computer plug from power surge. Back your rules up with firm and fair consequences.
9. Take your child seriously
Cyberbullying is painful stuff and your child needs your empathy. Watch your child carefully and tune into his or her emotional signs. Don’t let your child be victimized and if you discover that she or he has been — be there and be supportive. Do what you ned to help your child feel and be safe.
10. Consider setting filters and parental controls
WebSafety Inc. is an app that gives parents real-time alerts to help them protect their children from online dangers such as cyberbullies, sexting and Internet predators. A world first, the WebSafety app – which uses patented technology – provides parents with analytical tools to watch for alarming patterns or behaviors, while children and teens are using their smartphones.
Best! Michele Borba