Before the Internet, most bullying happened in person. The bigger child intimidated the smaller child, there were playground altercations and name calling among classmates. Nowadays, with the online world and mobile devices, e-mail, social networks, chat rooms and forums, there are so many more ways for bullies to strike. This means both parents and children must understand where bullying occurs and how to respond to these situations. Follow these five tips to protect your child and crack down on cyberbullying.
Raise Your Awareness
Prevention starts with awareness. As a parent, you must be aware of what your children and teens are doing online. Learn about the sites they visit, the social media networks they use and their online activity. If you’re not tech savvy, consider taking a class (at the Apple Store or Library) or do some online research about the latest devices, apps and social networks. Nearly 43 percent of children have been bullied online, according to Do Something, and one in four have had it happen more than once.
When you know the specific places where bullying occurs, you’re better equipped to monitor your children’s activity and behaviour or set up parental controls to block certain sites and apps. It may seem like snooping, but as a parent, it’s your job to have an awareness of your child’s activity online.
Make the Rules
When it comes to the Internet, you need to make some ground rules. Put the computer in a common area, instead of in your child’s bedroom, and set the rules about when he or she is allowed to use it. If your child has a cell phone, decide a time of night when he or she has to put it away (give it to you), there’s no need for them to keep it in their bedroom. More than 80 percent of teens use a cell phone on a regular basis, which makes it the most common place for cyber bullying to occur. You can also set up parental controls for smartphones. If you only want your children to have a phone for emergencies, you can block chat apps and games. Just remember, they will still be able to access these applications on their friends phones when they’re away from home, so talk to your children about their behaviour on smartphones and mobile devices.
You can also set rules about social networks. For example, if your son or daughter has a Facebook account, let them know they need to add you as a friend so you can monitor their activity. They may resist, but tell them it comes with the territory. Remind them not to accept messages from people they don’t know; this includes adding strangers on social networks to increase their friend count. Also, make sure you know the passwords for your children’s accounts. Explain why it’s important to create strong passwords for each online account, and remind your children to never divulge passwords or personal information to anyone online.
Encourage Open Communication
Encourage your children to be open with you about their activity and experience online. Make sure they understand where bullying is likely to occur. If someone has made them feel uncomfortable, they need to know it’s OK to talk to you about it. Many children avoid telling their parents about being bullied online because they fear they will be scolded or reprimanded.
Let them know you’re on their side and encourage them to come to you right away if they feel threatened, bullied or uncomfortable. Make sure your child knows he or she shouldn’t respond or engage with someone who is mean or uses harsh language online. Remind them not to retaliate or sink to the bully’s level.
Keep a Record
If your child is being bullied online, print the emails or take a screenshot of the messages. “The only good news about bullying online or on phones is that it can usually be captured, saved, and shown to someone who can help,” according to Connect Safely. “You can save that evidence in case things escalate.” You can take this record to your child’s school, if the bully is a classmate, or report the incident online.
When you speak to your children about saving records, remind them that their actions online create a paper trail, too. They should always be cautious of how they behave on the Internet, things last forever in cyberspace.
Work With Teachers and Administrators
You can keep an eye on things at home but teachers and school administrators can be your eyes and ears during the school day. Communicate with your child’s teacher about their behaviour and any warning signs that he or she may be mistreated or having issues with any other students. Your child’s teacher is also a great resource for which apps, social networks and online games the children are using.
While there’s no way to completely shield your children from the Internet and technology, you can take action to ensure they have a safe, comfortable experience online. What rules do you have on Internet use in your home? Share them with us in the comments below.
Maile Proctor is a professional blogger and content editor. She writes on health and fitness, lifestyle and family, education, finance, advice and more.