It is estimated that 1 in 3 children experiences bullying in their online life.
Daily, countless youth are the targets of chronic humiliation, aggression, and abuse perpetrated through different kinds of electronic communication. Often, parents/guardians don’t know their children are being cyber bullied and/or don’t find out until harm has occurred or until it has reached a crisis situation.
As with most socially triggered dangerous behaviors, it is important to remember that implementing protective measures will not prevent attacks from cyber bullies; however, they will reduce your children’s risk of victimization. Let’s begin “Unlocking Cyber Bullying” by grabbing hold of 3 Keys for protection and Intervention.
3 Keys for Protection
First Key: Implement Quick and Practical Safety Measures. Once you turn over a piece of technology to your children, implement four safety measures. (1) Protect passwords by teaching children not to share them. (2) Protect profiles by teaching children to limit the amount and kinds of information they post online. (3) Obtain filtering and monitoring software. (4) Monitor your children’s online reputation! Yes, monitor them! Parents, you are not snooping or invading your children’s privacy. You are protecting them. You are their first line of defence.
Second Key: Parents and Guardians, Establish a Family Online Agreement. This is mandatory! This is a contract between you and your children which establishes rules and expectations about their online behavior. At the same time, the contract makes clear what the parents’ roles and responsibilities are as well. As children age and demonstrate maturity with their online behavior, the agreement can be amended or changed. An excellent example of a contract can be downloaded here. However, I encourage parents and children to design their own contracts. Get creative! Have fun with it! Remember, when children have a voice in what is expected of them, they are more likely to buy into it!
Third Key: Know Your Children’s Net Neighborhood. When our children start to become social, responsible parents typically want to know three things: where their children are going; with whom they are spending time; and what they are doing. Whether it is in their real life or their online life, children can be put in harm’s way. Periodically, sit down with your children and get to know their Net Neighborhood! Find out where they are spending time and with whom! Talk with them; learn from them; and teach them what is safe and what is not. Keep communication open and the conversation going. Remember, although tweens – teens may not always show that they want you watching over them, research consistently supports that parents remain the most influential persons in their children’s lives.
Keys for Intervention
Cyber bullying has become a normative behavior in most, if not all, technologically advanced countries. Many individuals do not report being targeted or victimized for three reasons: victims don’t believe they will be taken seriously; victims don’t believe anyone will do anything to stop it; and victims fear retaliation. Whether an individual is a victim or is a cyber bully, or is both, it is important to intervene in ways which will best serve the well-being of the individual and help curb this viral toxic behavior.
3 Keys for Victims of Cyber Bullying
First Key: Stop. Save. Share: As soon as your child is being cyber bullied (or you find out), STOP and do not respond to the behavior. (2) SAVE and PRINT OUT the cyber bullying message. (3) Children need to SHARE the information with trusted adults and parents need to REPORT it to proper authorities (if necessary). Regardless, keep a record of the messages for future reporting. Parents, let your children know they are safe and that you are there for them. Talk to them. Listen to them. Don’t tell them what they need to do; find out what they need from you.
Second Key: Assess Degree of Severity and Surround with Support. If your children are being cyber bullied to the degree that they are in serious or constant danger and/or that they feel hopeless or helpless, implement a crises plan. First, make sure that your children know they are safe. Secondly, if appropriate, inform the proper authorities. Thirdly, strongly consider counseling if your child appears depressed or overly anxious. Whatever the degree of severity, place a supportive net of loving, caring individuals around your children.
Third Key: Strengthen Social Skills. Many victims, especially those who are timid, shy, or introverted, tend to respond well to social skills training. Whether it is participating in a team sport, club, music or theatre, or any kind of group or interest, involve your children in activities which will strengthen their self-worth. As children feel more confident, they tend to detach themselves more quickly from the cruel behaviors of cyber bullies or they learn to ignore them altogether.
3 Keys for Children Cyber Bullying
First Key: Contract. If you child is cyber bullying, this demonstrates a lack of responsibility in proper usage of his/her technology. If a Family Internet Safety Agreement is not already in place, implement one. If one is in place, reinforce and/or amend the rules and expectations. Talk about what is appropriate behavior and what is not. A “time-out” or “limiting time” from technology is sensible. However, without communication and ownership of wrong-doing, it does little to change behavior.
Second Key: Consequences. Consequences should be reasonable and in-line with the degree of offense. Research supports that making meaningful amends to the victim or implementing restorative justice measures benefits both the bully and the victim. Avoid punishment for punishment sake or taking away technology altogether. This does nothing to change behaviors or attitudes.
Third Key: Counseling – Empathy Building Skills. Many cyber bullies demonstrate a lack of regard or respect for the well-being of others. In short, they lack empathy. Although it may sound strange, while we are becoming more connected with others through the use of technological communications and interactions, research supports that we are becoming disconnected and detached from the feelings of others. Through counseling or other empathy-building groups or gatherings (such as sports teams, clubs, family time or celebrations), strongly consider integrating exercises and activities into your routines or practices which promote kindness, mutual respect, and compassion. When children learn how to connect with the feelings of others, they are more likely to value them. Schools and organizations which have implemented empathy-based lessons into their curriculum or programs have greatly decreased their incidences of cyber bullying.
In closing, parents and guardians, this may sound like a lot of work, but as I often say, ”When it comes to our children, it is better to do the hard work up front than live with the heartache in the end.”
For more stories on this topic: Cyber Bullying Part 2 & Cyber Bulling Part 3
Publishers Notes: Holli Kenley is an American Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and the author of “ Daughters Betrayed By Their Mothers: Moving from Brokenness to Wholeness” and “Power Down & Parent Up!: Cyber Bullying, Screen Dependence & Raising Tech-Healthy Children”