The following post originally appeared on Tweenhood.ca. As the name of the site implies, it is intended for parents of tweens, generally defined as being 8 – 12 years of age. If your children are older than 12, while many of the ideas below apply, your children are likely spending more time online, and frequent a wide array of social networks and apps. Unfortunately, if they are seeing cyberbullying as older teens, it is possibly of a more sophisticated variety.
Well parents, congratulations on making it this far. Now that your son or daughter has reached double digits, or is about to, you have devoted countless hours of sweat and effort making him or her into a fine, upstanding young adult. Now for the hard part – personal interaction, including those that happen online, are going to get more complicated.
Has your son or daughter been a victim of cyberbullying? A witness to it? If it hasn’t happened yet, it probably will soon. According to the BullyReport published by dosomething.org, 87% of teens see bullying taking place on at least a weekly basis, and 70% of those say that cyberbullying is the most common form. According to another set of research focused narrowly on middle school kids, 91% of students in 4th to 8th grade report being a victim of some form of bullying.
What can parents do? As with most things in life, the key to dealing with cyberbullying is preparation. Keep in mind as you talk to your child that your plan should include not only situations where your child is the victim, but also a witness.
Come to an agreement on a definition – The first time your child gets cyberbullied, or is a witness to it, she probably won’t know what happened. Laying the groundwork for an understanding of what constitutes cyberbullying can put your child in a good position to react accordingly.
Restrict your kids’ internet activity to age-appropriate sites and networks – The age limit on most social media networks is 13 years of age, and is in place to protect your child’s privacy. Take advantage of that protection.
Set social media accounts to “private” – Despite the stated age limits, we know that lots of pre teens have social media accounts, either with their parents’ permission or without it. Unfortunately, cyberbullying can come from strangers as easily as it comes from people you know. By setting accounts to “private”, or at a minimum carefully screening whose friend requests you accept, kids can minimize contact with anonymous bullies.
Don’t overlook online gaming – If your kids are gaming on their computer, Xbox or Playstation, the chances are that there is some level of in-game chatting functionality. Games are competitive and tempers can flare. If your child is being cyberbullied during a game, he can block or report the offending player.
As a witness, don’t laugh or join in – Witnesses to cyberbullying incidents can be the most effective deterrent in the early stages. If the bully does not get the desired positive feedback, the bullying is likely to stop.
Tell the bully to stop – Whether your child is a victim or witness, the more people that tell him to stop his offensive actions, the better.
As a victim, you can just ignore it – If you are bring cyberbullied, the most effective response may be to walk away. Again, bullies are seeking attention. Don’t give it to them.
Report the incident to a parent or teacher early – Many or most cases of bullying go unreported. Talk to your child about the difference between being a snitch and reporting a serious offense.
You may have noticed that we didn’t recommend carefully screening everything your child is doing online. In our experience, if your pre teen is active on the internet or social media, it is practically impossible to keep up with everything she comes into contact with online. Instead, talk to her early about developing an appropriate response when she encounters cyberbullying.
Contact ThirdParent any time for help and resources for monitoring teen internet activity.