As our means of communication continue to evolve from in-person to online, so do our means of harassment. Bullying, a continued act of harassment, humiliation, and physical or emotional pain, has always been a problem among kids. Some children have difficulty handling their own emotional problems or insecurities, and therefore look to put their peers down in order to feel a sense of superiority and power.
With our recent advances in technology, kids are now taking their bullying online, an act that has been coined “cyberbullying.” Hiding behind a computer screen, for better or worse, people are often more confident than they are in person. You have time to craft the perfect message, you have the Internet for reference, and you can’t see the reactions of the person you are messaging. This is the perfect storm, and often leads to people having an entirely different presence online. The Internet also provides us with the option of anonymity, making it very easy for anyone to say things online with little chance of getting caught.
As kids take to social media younger and younger, parents need to be aware of and verbal about cyberbullying. Bullying that happens online is very difficult to monitor, and can leave a gray area for punishment. Because the bullying typically takes place at home, schools often cannot or will not become involved in disciplinary actions for the bully (for more information on a school’s role in cyberbullying discipline, click here). Therefore, it is in your child’s best interest for you to communicate often about cyberbullying and lay down some ground rules for social media usage, in order to prevent any online harassment. As much as you may try to prevent it or monitor it, cyberbullying still happens, so make sure your child knows they can come to you with any problems they encounter online (for more information on the parents’ role in cyberbullying protection, click here). Here are a few important points to discuss with your kids of before they join the social media craze.
Don’t talk to strangers
The 2011 movie Cyberbully illustrates this point well, as main character Taylor reveals personal information to (who she thinks is) a cute boy she chats with, only to later find out she has revealed her secrets to a girl from school looking for information to spread. This movie is a great starting point for an important conversation with your kids- I recommend you watch it together before opening the discussion about cyber bullies. Kids are taught stranger danger at a young age, and it holds even more weight online. Certain sites are created specifically for this purpose- for people to connect with strangers. However, we all know that people aren’t always who they say they are online- the “14-year-old girl” may actually be a 40-year-old man who is on the site for all the wrong reasons. Not only can talking to strangers online lead to cyberbullying and harassment, but it can also lead to very dangerous situations, so be sure to emphasize the importance of knowing the people you talk to online.
Be careful what you share
One of the best pieces of advice my parents ever gave me was not to share anything online that I wouldn’t be comfortable with them seeing. Anything you send online- pictures, videos, personal information- can very easily be copied and pasted or shared around if it gets in the wrong hands. No matter how private you may think something is, in some way or another it can be made public, and this can cause harassment and embarrassment. Naughty pictures can be saved and made viral, trash talking can be copy and pasted to the wrong person, and secrets can easily be shared publicly. Remind your kids that anything in writing, picture, or video is essentially a permanent source of evidence- once you put it out there, there’s no getting it back.
Remove yourself from the situation
Students are often taught in school to ignore bullies, as they will soon retire from the harassment if they are getting no reaction from their target. The same holds true online. One of the easiest ways to stop cyberbullying is by removing oneself from the situation, rather than trying to fight fire with fire. Make sure you and your child understand the functions of the social media site they are using. Teach your kid how to use the privacy settings, and how to block and report users. Also teach kids how to take a screenshot, so if they are ever the target of cyberbullying, they can save any evidence to seek disciplinary action for the bully. Remind your kids to always tell you or another adult if they are being cyberbullied, but never to feed into it- save any evidence then immediately block the bully, rather than engage him or her.
Treat others the way you want to be treated
From behind a computer screen, anyone can find the confidence to say things they otherwise would never say. Remind your child often to always treat others with respect, online and in person. When used correctly, social media is a great way to connect with people. With some education, awareness, limits, and ground rules, hopefully you and your child can remain unaffected by cyberbullies.