The following is the second in a three-part series on how to help safely navigate the world of social media with your kids from Sue Scheff, a mother, author, parent advocate, and expert in internet safety education.
Cyberbullying is a concern for all parents. We can’t be with our children 24/7 and the fact is our kids spend more time in cyberspace than they do with us. The most common form of cyberbullying among tweens and teens happens with cell phones. We need to equip them with the knowledge to handle cyberbullies and prevent them from becoming victims.
Since your child either just came home or will be coming home from camp soon, let’s be sure they are well-prepared to know how report online abuse and, most importantly, know they can come to you if they witness it or are a victim of cyberbullying.
Going back to the study of Teens and Screens that I referenced in my last post, in 2014 cyberbullying tripled. 24% of tweens and teens lack knowledge on what to do in the event they witness online abuse or are a victim of it.
According to Cyberbullying Statistics for 2014, 52% of teens report having been a victim of cyberbullying. Sadly, only 33% of those victims have reported bullying to parents or another adult. A recent European study showed that over half of teens view some level of cyberbullying as a normal part of online life. By having open and frequent face-to-face chats with your child about digital citizenship, hopefully we can eliminate this opinion of cyberbullying.
First we need to understand why tweens and teens don’t tell their parents.
1) Fear of consequences: Your child’s online existence is a critical part of their social life. With all their friends online, being excluded would be devastating them. They don’t want to risk you banning them from their friends and their digital lives.
2) Humiliation and embarrassment: Our kids are human and have feelings. Although some kids portray a tough persona and believe they are invincible, deep down everyone feels hurt by cruel keystrokes. Your child may fear looking stupid or weak. If the incident gets reported to their school or camp, will they be able to face their classmates and campers? Imagine the horror of a child hearing from peers after being bullied that they somehow deserved it, brought it on themselves or should have just toughened it out rather than be a snitch.
3) Fear of making it worse: We have taught our children well so they understand that bullies are looking for attention. By reporting the incident of cyberbullying to a parent, your child may fear it could anger the bully and make matters worse for them online. In some cases bullies will enlist more online trolls to cyber-mob your child. Of course the child’s dreaded fear is his or her parent reporting it to their school or camp and more people knowing whereby they become a possible target in the future.
Building a strong digital relationship with your child:
1) Speak openly about cyberbullying: Communication is key to helping your child understand that you are their advocate not only offline, but online too. Talk to them about cyberbullying prevention and remind them of the basics such as:
- Never engage with online bullies
- Never give out passwords
- Never try to seek revenge on a cyberbully
- How to block bullies
- Save evidence of cyber-bullying, especially if you have to report the bully to a school or camp
2) It is not their fault: Being a victim of a cyberbully is not their fault. Remind them you are not going to judge them or blame them. Assure them that you will not revoke their Internet privileges or take away their phone if they are cyberbullied. As I mentioned earlier, the Internet is an important part of their life so if they feel threatened that it will be removed, they may believe it is easier to be bullied and emotionally tormented. We don’t want them to be feel this way, it is not healthy for anyone to have to tolerate.
3) Listen: Communication is also a two-way street. Be sure you hear what your child is saying. Many victims say what helps most is to be heard — really listened to, either by a friend or an adult who cares. Hopefully that is their parent. Cyberbullying may not be physical, however the emotion scars can be deep. Listening to your child respectfully can start the healing process. Never diminish their feelings and let them know you are their advocate.