Posted on: 29.04.2015.
Author: Ana G
''Pro Juventute - Stopp Cyber-Mobbing Kampagne © Pro Juventute_15'' by Pro Juventute is licensed under CC BY 2.0
The Internet has improved our lives in many ways, but it's also become the source of many unexpected problems. Cyberbullying is a prime example, and it's something that no parent can afford to ignore. Now more than ever, online bullying is a serious and very common problem.
All kinds of opportunities for engaging in cyberbullying exist in the digital realm. Kids use the Internet for studying, socializing and playing games, so they're connected the majority of the time. Bullies know this all too well, and they also know that kids are often left unsupervised when enjoying their time on the computer. It should come as no surprise, then, that they've turned to the Internet to take bullying campaigns from the playground and over to the digital world.
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Cyberbullying is defined as online behavior that targets and hurts others. Through the use of technology, cyberbullies often harass, threaten and embarrass their targets. Online bullying takes many forms and may include:
One of the scariest things about cyberbullying is that virtually anyone can become a target. Fortunately, there are things you can do as a parent to minimize the risks for your child, and there are steps you can take to nip potential issues in the bud.
Indicators of School Crime and Safety 2013 Figure 11.3.Percentage of students ages 12–18 who reported being cyber-bullied anywhere during the school year, by selected cyber-bullying problems and sex: 2011Image courtesy of National Center for Education Statistics via Wikipedia Commons
Because it happens in the virtual world and not "in real life," people sometimes downplay the impact that cyberbullying has on those who are targeted. However, online bullying should be taken as seriously as other forms of "traditional" bullying.
The impact of cyberbullying can take many forms, none of which a parent should ignore. Kids often feel powerless and afraid because the bullying happens online, during day and night, and sometimes they don't even know the identity of their bully. As bullies tend to share private, and sometimes even false information about their targets, kids can feel exposed and humiliated, which can impact their confidence level and affect their self-esteem.
Kids who are cyberbullied can start feeling unworthy and depressed. Depression may cause them to lose interest in things they normally enjoy and may cause them to isolate themselves, resulting in them trying to avoid school out of fear of confronting their bullies. Some may even start experiencing physical symptoms like frequent headaches, stomachaches and a number of stress-related conditions.
Cyberbullying doesn't just have negative consequences for those who are targeted; it is upsetting for kids' parents too. In fact, parents often make the problem worse by forbidding their children from using technology in an attempt to put an end to the cyberbullying. However, this practice often results in doing more harm than good.
Like any parent, you don't want your child to become the target of cyberbullying. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to dramatically reduce the risk of this happening.
Without understanding the tools and techniques cyberbullies use, it won't be easy for you to detect cyberbullying if it occurs. Even though the sites and social networking channels your child uses may not interest you in the slightest, it pays to not only become familiar with them but to start using them yourself. This requires a bit of research on your end, and it's the perfect opportunity to sit down with your kid and let them teach you for a change.
Sit down with your child and have them show you their favorite websites and social media sites. Scroll through various types of online activity and ask your child to explain unfamiliar terminology and abbreviations to you. Get a feel for how each site works and how kids interact with one another. Ask your child why these sites are so popular and why they like using them. When your child knows that you are familiar with the sites they use, they'll feel far more comfortable coming to you in the future if there is a problem.
''THINK before you'' by Thomas Galvez is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Oftentimes, cyberbullying incidents begin when kids fail to use proper online etiquette, and engage in an unwise online behavior.
Tell your child that just because online interactions don't happen face to face, doesn't mean that their politeness should go out the window. Tell them you expect them to remain courteous and respectful at all times. Forbid them from name-calling, cursing and from sharing offensive opinions. Explain that you expect them to treat others with respect online just as they should in person.
Let your child know that posting untrue things about people online is wrong. Ask them to think how they would feel if someone did that to them. Teach the importance of being careful about what is posted on the Internet. Remind them that once they click the "send" or "post" button, all bets are off. Advise them to double-check anything before posting, just to make sure that something won't be misinterpreted by someone else. Finally, remind your child to keep the secrets they've been told, and that sharing them online is among the most hurtful things they can do.
''Modern Communication'' by LearningLark is licensed under CC BY 2.0
Kids are more likely to be cyberbullied or to engage in cyberbullying when they feel that no one is keeping tabs on their online activity. With that in mind, adopt and maintain a policy of supervision and intervention. For starters, keep the computer your child uses in a public area in the home, and restrict their use of smartphones and other mobile devices to common areas too.
Create clear rules about online behavior and periodically remind your child of them. For instance, they should never share identifying information with strangers online, such as their first and last names, school name, state, address, phone number and other. Remind them that someone could be posing as a friend, and not be one. Instruct your child not to respond to nasty messages and other harassment but to show them to you instead.
Help your child set up their social media accounts and other profiles, and make sure you know all of their passwords. Add your child as a friend on all the sites they use and monitor their activity in this way too. Make sure your child knows that you reserve the right to read posts, emails, text messages and other digital communication at any time. You may also want to consider only allowing instant messaging or online chatting when a responsible adult is home.
Come up with a clear plan regarding online behavior and boundaries, and make sure the whole family is on board. A great idea is to establish age limits for using certain websites. For instance, many parents require their kids to wait until they're 13 before joining social media sites like Facebook. If you go this route, explain why you are doing so to your child.
While you're at it, periodically go through the list of sites that are okay for your child to use, and explain why certain sites are off-limits. Remind your child about what's appropriate to share and what isn't. This is especially important in light of the fact that many schools and employers now check social media before making decisions regarding admissions and hiring.
Put technology to work for you to minimize the risk of cyberbullying. Parental controls, Internet filters and browser add-ons can all help in this regard. Consider using social media monitoring software and mobile apps to assist you as well. Encourage ongoing communication with your child regarding their online activities, and make sure they know they won't lose privileges for telling you about any cyberbullying that occurs. By showing you're a reliable support system, you will do what you can to make sure your child feels comfortable coming to you for help.
''Generation gap'' by Quinn Dombrowski is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
If your child becomes the target of a cyberbully, instruct them not to respond directly or immediately, and refrain from doing so yourself. As soon as a problem develops, close existing online accounts and make new ones. Change your child's phone number and get an unlisted one. Show your child how to block the bully on social media, and keep copies of all messages, email addresses and usernames that are used by the cyberbully.
If your child receives threats of harassment, report them to the web master and/or the school. If communications are happening at home, contact your Internet service provider about them. If the bullying involves school in any way, don't stop with reporting it to the principal. Follow up and request a written plan showing the steps the school is taking. Don't under-react by telling your child to shrug it off, but don't overreact by blaming your child or unfairly punishing them by forbidding them from using technology. If your child shows signs of depression or other symptoms, consider bringing them to a counselor or doctor.
These days, Internet safety needs to play a pivotal role in your family's house rules. Preventing cyberbullying is an ongoing process, so make sure you discuss the topic with your child regularly and use real-life examples to show why their online actions matters. By creating boundaries and explaining your expectations to your child, you will go a long way toward keeping them safe, and ensuring that their online experience remains enjoyable, educational and fun.