Most parents can remember at least one instance of someone at school saying something mean about them growing up. Whether it was truthful or not, after a modest period of frustration or even embarrassment, most of us went on to live normal, productive lives. Those experiences are why some parents underestimate the impact of cyberbullying, which can have much different consequences.
Cyberbullying, which can be defined as the use of electronic media to threaten, intimidate or harass another person or group of people, has gotten more attention in recent years because of the way the attacks affect people, particularly young people.
While many parents think of technology as harmless, with the access that most tweens and teens have to digitally connected devices, cyberbullying is actually becoming more concerning. Like traditional bullying, kids who are cyberbullied are more likely to skip school or avoid activities, have lower self-esteem or poor grades and they can even show physical signs of emotional distress. But unlike traditional bullying, cyberbullying can happen 24 hours a day. It can also be done anonymously and can be harder to delete or stop, when shared across social media platforms where it can “go viral”. Cyberbullying also has the added challenge of shame as the negative statements or pictures posted can be spread through an entire school within minutes. This means that kids who think everyone knows could actually be right.
One of the biggest challenges faced when trying to combat cyberbullying is how parents can respond to protect their child while not making matters worse. There are three great things parents can do to keep kids safe online.
An ounce of prevention. Good cyber safety guidelines, like limiting time online and keeping electronic usage in open spaces of the home, are good protective practices when it comes to making sure your child has a good balanced perspective on technology. Encouraging them to think before they post also helps ensures that there is more good online than bad for all our kids too.
Keep the lines open. One of the main reasons kids report that they don’t tell parents about cyberbullying when it happens is because they are worried that their parents will unplug them. For this generation, who doesn’t know a world without social media, being unplugged can feel much like being a fish out of water. Many kids would rather deal with bullying than risk being disconnected from the things they enjoy online. Make sure your kids know that they can tell you anything and that they will only receive reduced media time as a consequence, when they have done something warranting it. Be willing to talk through questionable scenarios without passing judgement so your kids know that they can come to you with anything.
Know your rights. When something bad does happen online like sharing of inappropriate pictures or posting lies, it’s important to know that your family does have rights. First, most states now have laws to address bullying that include cyberbullying components. If the child goes to your child’s schools, your state may also empower administrators to intervene with consequences in the building, which can include suspension or expulsion. Almost all of the social media sites have strong reporting and blocking features which allow you and your child to prevent sharing or remove unwanted items posted online. You can even report repeat offenders and in many cases their profiles can be deleted entirely.
The interesting twist with cyberbullying is that because it’s online and can almost always be traced, when reported, there is more evidence available than with traditional bullying at times. This means federal law officials or attorneys, like Aaron Minc, who specialize in internet safety can also become involved when there are issues that may defame your child’s character or in some way reflect on your family or business.
Ultimately, the best thing that you can do is to remain calm, and don’t react with threats or bullying of your own. You can respond and work your way up the chain of command to police and legal counsel as needed, but making sure the attacks aren’t seen as mutual conflict can be hard when there is a war of words. Keep showing your children that the online world is a wonderful space when used as the tool it was intended to be. Modeling that for your children is the best any parent can do.