According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (AACAP), children between the ages of eight and 12 spend an average of four to six hours each day using a screen.
While the internet can be an informative and educational space, it can also contain content that’s unsuitable for young viewers. At the same time, interactive games, message apps, and social media platforms can put your child at risk of another threat: cyberbullying.
While the concept of bullying is age-old, the expansion of online media has given rise to new forms of taunting and tormenting. As parents, it’s essential to have open and honest conversations with your children around this topic and what to do if they’re exposed to such harassment.
Today, we’re sharing how to open this important dialogue and keep your children safe when they access the web.
Establish a Full-Transparency Policy
One of the most critical first steps you can take is to establish a policy of total openness with your child around their internet use. This policy should be in place no matter how old they are or how often they use the internet.
Set expectations that your child will share with you what they’re doing online, who they’re interacting with, and which sites and apps they’re using. Together, create a plan around how often they’ll log on, and make sure they’re clear on which platforms are off-limits.
While these early conversations can be challenging to have, they set an important tone moving forward. Your child needs to know that they can come to you with questions and concerns regarding their online time, especially if they encounter something that makes them uncomfortable.
Start a Discussion
Once you’ve opened those lines of communication, don’t be afraid to speak freely with your child about cyberbullying. For most parents, this is a concept that wasn’t around when you were growing up, so it can be valuable to do your own research first.
Learn as much as possible about the most recent types of cyberbullying and strategies that can keep your child safe. Then, meet with them to discuss what you find.
It can help to start with an opening question, such as, “I’ve been hearing a lot about cyberbullying and its harmful impact on kids your age. What do you know about it? Do you know anyone who’s been affected by it?”
You don’t have to be very pushy or inquisitive at this point. It’s usually more effective to keep the conversation casual unless you know for sure that your child is already experiencing a form of cyberbullying, in which case you’ll need to be more direct. Ask them to share their experiences as well as their own thoughts on the topic.
Remind them that you’re not there to punish or intimidate them. You just want to make sure they know about the possibility that this could occur, and you want to equip them with the knowledge and resources they need.
Identify Red Flags
Sometimes, what appears at first to be harmless online banter is actually much more serious. Yet, because children and adolescents spend so much time online, it’s easy to miss the key warning signs that hint at abuse.
There are many different kinds of cyberbullying, and each one has its own set of red flags. Some of the most common ones to look out for include:
- Online exclusion: Being intentionally left out of online activity, such as group chats or online invites
- Outing: Purposefully revealing sensitive information about someone without their consent
- Harassment: Consistently sending hurtful or threatening messages with the intent to cause harm
- Trickery: Befriending someone under false pretenses only to gain (and later expose) sensitive personal details
- Cyberstalking: A serious and dangerous online fixation, often accompanied by in-person stalking
- Trolling: Posting inflammatory comments to purposefully upset someone
- Framing: Hacking into someone else’s online accounts and posting defamatory content
These issues might seem obvious from your perspective, but they can be exceedingly difficult for someone else to spot. This is especially the case with types that involve trickery, wherein the cyberbully appears to be one person but is working maliciously behind the keyboard.
When you and your child know what to look for, it becomes easier to spot those warning signs before they snowball into bigger problems. Left unchecked, cyberbullying can lead to a host of mental, physical, and emotional health issues, including anxiety and low self-esteem.
Talk About How to Respond
Despite your best efforts to prevent and stop cyberbullying, your child may still experience some form of it. If this happens, it’s important to know how to react. Remind them that retaliation will only exacerbate the issue, no matter what’s occurring.
Instead, teach your child smart strategies they can use to remove themselves from the situation and prevent it from occurring again. These include:
- Telling a parent or teacher
- Ignoring the cyberbully (not responding)
- Blocking the bully
- Asking the offender to stop
- Report the event to the content provider (e.g. the website, app, or social media platform)
- Contact the police
As you go over these potential responses, you’ll give your child the tools they need to stand up against cyberbullying. If they’re in this situation, also encourage them to save the evidence of the event, such as through online screenshots. If the case winds up getting litigious, you’ll be glad you have proof that the bullying occurred.
Talk About Cyberbullying With Your Children
As the internet continues to expand in scale and scope, it’s only natural to think about how to prevent cyberbullying. After all, you only want the best for your children, and you want to protect them from harm to the greatest extent that you can.
The key to having a productive conversation about this topic is to remain open and honest. Make sure your child knows they can come to you with anything and that you’ll always listen. If they tell you that they’ve been cyberbullied, help them navigate those next steps.
Along the way, we are here to help. We offer a variety of youth programs designed to help adolescents work through many of life’s challenges, including this one.