Most parents don’t know the first thing about how to set up a system to monitor all their child’s online activities and cell phone exchanges. In fact, most parents do absolutely nothing when it comes to monitoring their child’s activities and communications. Many think that just installing a computer program is all it takes to ensure their kids are safe which an incomplete solution is at best. They don’t realize they need a comprehensive strategy to fight this complex problem.
Teaching your children to respect others and to take a stand against bullying of all kinds helps too. Education can help considerably in preventing and dealing with the consequences of cyberbullying. The first place to begin an education campaign is with the kids and teens themselves. We need to address ways they can become inadvertent cyberbullies, how to be accountable for their actions and not to stand by and allow bullying (in any form) to be acceptable. We need to teach them not to ignore the pain of others.
Tips for Parents
Cyberbullying is everyone’s business and the best response is a pro-active or preventative one. From the outset, parents can reduce the risks associated with Internet use if they engage in an open discussion with their children about their online activities and set up rules that will grow along with them.
- For younger kids, create an online agreement or contract for computer use, with their input. Make sure your agreement contains clear rules about ethical online behaviour. Media Awareness Network’s Young Canadians in a Wired World research shows that in homes where parents have clear rules against certain kinds of activities, young people are much less likely to engage in them.
- With small children who visit games sites, rules should deal with online interaction: never provide personal information and don’t share passwords with friends.
- For teenagers, online social activity is intense. Therefore, this is the time to discuss the nature of your teen’s online interaction and, more specifically, his or her responsible use of Internet. Sextingcan easily lead to cyberbullying, particularly if the relationship sours.
Whether your child is a tween or a teen, talk to them about responsible Internet use:
- Teach them to never post or say anything on the Internet that they wouldn’t want the whole world – including you – to read.
- Talk to them about reaching out to an adult at the first sign of a threat. Don’t take for granted that your child will: only 8 per cent of teens who have been bullied online have told their parents.
- Chill! Kids refuse to confide in their parents because they fear that once they find out about the cyberbullying, they will take away their Internet or cell phone.
- Teach your children that what goes on online is everyone’s business. Let them know that action must be taken when faced with cyberbullying. Not reporting it is tantamount to approving it.
- … and, of course, set the example with your own ethical online behaviour.
Take action if your child is being bullied online:
- Watch out for signs that your child is being bullied online – a reluctance to use the computer or go to school may be an indication.
- If the bully is a student at your child’s school, meet with school officials and ask for help in resolving the situation.
- Report online bullying to your Internet or cell phone service provider. Most companies have Acceptable Use Policies (AUPs) that clearly define privileges and guidelines for those using their services, and the actions that can be taken if those guidelines are violated. They should be able to respond to reports of cyberbullying over their networks, or help you track down the appropriate service provider to respond to.
- Report incidents of online harassment and physical threats to your local police. Some forms of online bullying are considered criminal acts. For example: under the Criminal Code of Canada, it is a crime to communicate repeatedly with someone if your communication causes them to fear for their own safety or the safety of others.
- It’s also a crime to publish a “defamatory libel” – writing something that is designed to insult a person or likely to injure a person’s reputation by exposing him or her to hatred, contempt or ridicule.
Parents should also teach their kids how to react to an online bully:
- Stop: leave the area or stop the activity (i.e. chat room, online game, instant messaging, social networking site, etc.).
- Block the sender’s messages. Never reply to harassing messages.
- Talk to an adult. If the bullying includes physical threats, tell the police as well.
- Save any harassing messages and forward them to your Internet Service Provider (i.e. Hotmail orgmail). Most service providers have appropriate use policies that restrict users from harassing others over the Internet – and that includes kids!
Strategies to avoid being cyberbullied
- Guard your contact information. Don’t give people you don’t know your cell phone number, Instant Messaging name, or e-mail address.
- If you’re being harassed online, immediately:
- Tell someone you trust.
- Leave the area or stop the activity (i.e., chat room, Instant Messaging).
- Block the sender’s messages. Never reply to harassing messages.
- Save any harassing messages and forward them to your Internet service provider.
- If the bullying involves threats, tell the police.
- Take a stand. Speak up when you see someone is harassing another person online. Most people will stop when someone tells them to.
Parents need to be the one trusted place kids can go when things go wrong online and offline. Yet they often are the one place kids avoid when things go wrong online. Why? Parents tend to overreact. Most children will avoid telling their parents about a cyberbullying incident fearing they will only make things worse. They are worried that their parents will: call the other parents, the school, blaming the victim or taking away Internet privileges. Unfortunately, they also sometimes under react, and rarely get it “just right.”
Parents need to be supportive of your child during this time. You may be tempted to give the “stick and stones may break your bones, but words will never hurt you” lecture, but words and cyber attacks can wound a child easily and have a lasting effect. These attacks follow them into your otherwise safe home and wherever they go online. And when up to 700 million accomplices can be recruited to help target or humiliate your child, the risk of emotional pain is very real, and very serious. Don’t brush it off.
Let the school know so the guidance counsellor can keep an eye out for in-school bullying and for how your child is handling things. You may want to notify your paediatrician, family counsellor or clergy for support if things progress. It is crucial that you are there to provide the necessary support and love. Make them feel secure. Children have committed suicide after having been cyberbullied so take it very seriously.
Take a stand against cyberbullying
Education can help considerably in preventing and dealing with the consequences of cyberbullying. The first place to begin an education campaign is with the kids and teens themselves. We need to address ways they can become inadvertent cyberbullies, how to be accountable for their actions and not to stand by and allow bullying (in any form) to be acceptable. We need to teach them not to ignore the pain of others.
Teaching kids to “Take 5!” before responding to something they encounter online is a good place to start. Jokingly, we tell them to “Drop the Mouse! And step away from the computer and no one will get hurt!” We then encourage them to find ways to help them calm down. This may include doing yoga, or deep-breathing. It may include running, playing catch or shooting hoops. It may involve taking a bath, hugging a stuffed animal or talking on the phone with friends. Each child can find their own way of finding their center again. And if they do, they will often not become a cyberbully, even an inadvertent cyberbully. Teaching them the consequences of their actions, and that the real “Men in Black” may show up at their front door sometimes helps. Since many cyberbullying campaigns include some form of hacking or password or identity theft, serious laws are implicated. Law enforcement, including the FBI, might get involved in these cases.
But we need to recognize that few cyberbullying campaigns can succeed without the complacency and the often help of other kids. If we can help kids understand how much bullying hurts, how in many cases (unlike the children’s chant) words can hurt you, fewer may cooperate with the cyberbullies. They will think twice before forwarding a hurtful e-mail, or visiting a cyberbullying “vote for the fat girl” site, or allowing others to take videos or cell phone pictures of personal moments or compromising poses of others. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said that in the end we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends. We need to teach our children not to stand silently by while others are being tormented. While it is crucial that we teach them not to take matters into their own hands (and perhaps become a “vengeful angel” cyberbully themselves) they need to come to us. And if we expect them to trust us, we need to be worthy of that trust. And, in addition to not lending their efforts to continue the cyberbullying, if given an anonymous method of reporting cyberbullying Web sites, profiles and campaigns, kids can help put an end to cyberbullying entirely. School administration, community groups and even school policing staff can receive these anonymous tips and take action quickly when necessary to shut down the site, profile or stop the cyberbullying itself.
They can even let others know that they won’t allow cyberbullying, supporting the victim, making it clear that they won’t be used to torment others and that they care about the feelings of others is key. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.” We need to teach our children that silence, when others are being hurt, is not acceptable. If they don’t allow the cyberbullies to use them to embarrass or torment others, cyberbullying will quickly stop. It’s a tall task, but a noble goal. And in the end, our children will be safer online and offline. We will have helped create a generation of good cybercitizens, controlling the technology instead of being controlled by it.
When Your Child Is the Bully
Finding out that your child is the one who is behaving inappropriately can be upsetting and heartbreaking. It’s important to address the problem head on and not wait for it to go away.
Talk to your child firmly about his or her actions and explain the negative impact it has on others. Joking and teasing might seem OK, but it can hurt people’s feelings and lead to getting in trouble. Bullying — in any form — is unacceptable; there can be serious (and sometimes irrevocable) consequences at home, school, and in the community if it continues.
Remind your child that the use of cell phones and computers is a privilege. Sometimes it helps to restrict the use of these devices until behaviour improves. If you feel your child should have a cell phone for safety reasons, make sure it is a phone that can only be used for emergency purposes.
To get to the heart of the matter, sometimes talking to teachers, guidance counsellors, and other school officials can help identify situations that lead your child to bully others. If mismanaged anger is a problem, talk to a doctor about helping your child learn to cope with anger, hurt, frustration, and other strong emotions in a healthy way. Professional counselling often helps kids learn to deal with their feelings and improve their social skills, which in turn can curb bullying.