Before social media and widespread access to the internet came along, it used to be that parents only had to worry about bullying in the school yard. Now, however, our kids are facing a new threat: cyberbullying. Unlike traditional bullying, it’s a pervasive problem because kids can’t get away from it, and it spreads far faster.
Cyberbullying includes text messages, e-mails, as well as posts on social media such as Facebook. In some cases, the harassment is directed at the child, and in other cases it may be rumors or embarrassing photos are spread throughout the school and beyond using the mass reach of social media. Unfortunately, all kinds of bullying can cause the victims to want to lash out, hurting themselves or others, and that’s why it’s so important for parents to be aware of what cyberbullying is and how to fight back.
Protecting kids from cyberbullying
Parents can help keep their kids safe from cyberbullying by being proactive. If your child is allowed to use social media such as Facebook, enforce these few rules: they must give you their passwords, follow or friend you or another trusted adult, and never post anything they wouldn’t want everyone to see. Make sure they understand not to respond to bullying if it happens, because that can feed into an explosive situation, and anything they post online can be copied, saved or shared even if they believe it’s private.
Other things we can do to protect our kids include limiting screen time, including cell phones, keeping the doors of communication open, and paying attention to the emotional cues our kids send. By limiting screen time, we give our kids the chance to disconnect from their peers and spend time doing things that can improve their feelings of self-worth. Give them the opportunity to spend that time following their other interests.
When you suspect your child is a victim
Victims of bullying often feel powerless and trapped by their tormentors. If you are concerned your child may be a victim of cyberbullying, don’t ignore it. Contact your child’s teacher and ask whether they have noticed anything happening at school, and talk about your concerns about changes in your child’s behavior. Go online and look at what your kid has been doing, and any interactions involving them. If you notice threats, copy it and report it to the authorities. But first, make a point to talk about what cyberbullying is with your kids, and make it clear that they can always talk to you about concerns without the fear that you’ll take away their access to the web.