When you were a kid, you probably encountered bullies only at school. Now, they’re online, too — which means they’re everywhere.
Today’s kids are exposed to bullying like never before thanks to the phenomenon known as “cyberbullying.” Cyberbullying is bullying but through the use of electronic communication like texting, phone calls, social media, etc. The sad reality is, most children will be exposed to cyberbullying at some point in their lives. But there are things you can do as a parent to mitigate their exposure.
From educating yourself about cyberbullying to monitoring your child’s activity, here are some ways to keep your kids safe online:
1. Be Careful With Technology
We’re living in a technological world. Today, technology isn’t just for adults or young professionals — it’s also for children. While there are several reasons why tech can be beneficial to children, there are also reasons why it can be harmful. One reason, specifically, is that when children have access to technology, they’re more likely to be exposed to cyberbullies.
Before handing your child a device, make sure they’re mature enough to handle the responsibility. Does your child struggle to communicate, forgets things, or have a tendency to overshare? If so, they probably aren’t ready to be introduced to the world of technology.
On the other hand, let’s say you decide they are mature enough for devices. In that case, make sure you’re still being mindful when purchasing tech for your kids.
The good news is, there are several kid-friendly options. Whether you’re buying a phone for kids or a computer, you can find devices that offer parental controls. Many also offer zero access to the internet and other safeguards to keep kids safe.
2. Understand What Cyberbullying Is
Today, over 40% of students report frequent bullying, with 36% of girls and 26% of boys admitting to being bullied online. Cultural differences including gender identity, race, religion, and even financial status are a few reasons why kids may be targeted.
There are several reasons why we might be seeing an increase in cyberbullying. For one, more and more kids have access to technology. But there’s another reason that should be highlighted — a lack of understanding when it comes to cyberbullying.
Parents, teachers, and even students can’t always identify cyberbullying. That’s because it comes in many different forms. For example, cyberbullying could be someone posting an unflattering photo of someone else or someone making private information public. As a parent, it’s important for you to understand what cyberbullying is so you can help your children identify when it’s happening.
3. Educate Yourself on Social Media
Chances are, you’re not as social media savvy as your children. It’s not your fault — you were born in an era when everything didn’t exist online. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take the time to get educated.
To protect your kids from potential cyberbullies, you need to familiarize yourself with the platforms they’re using. For instance, take the time to learn about Instagram. While you’re researching, ask yourself these questions: How do people communicate on Instagram? What type of pictures are common and what’s considered “inappropriate?” How easy is it for a child to communicate with a stranger on Instagram?
Once you know more, you’ll have a better idea of what to look out for. You’ll also know how to help your kids effectively use these sites.
4. Talk to Your Child About Bullying
After taking the time to educate yourself on cyberbullying, share that information with your child. While kids might be tech-savvy, that doesn’t make them “people-savvy.” They need your parental advice and guidance when it comes to dealing with bullies.
So talk to your child. Have a conversation about how to identify bullies and what to do when they come across one. Let’s say one of your child’s peers calls them a bad name on Instagram. Make sure your child knows the best way to respond isn’t to call them a name back but to disengage.
5. Set Tech Limits for Your Child
One of the best ways to keep your child safe is to set limits. This is even more crucial with technology, as it’s all too easy for children (and adults) to unintentionally abuse tech. As a parent, it’s your responsibility to help your kids by setting healthy boundaries.
For example, set limits for how much time your kids can spend on their phones. Are they allowed to text at the dinner table? Can they play video games before bed? Not only should your children have rules, they should also have punishments if they break those rules. For instance, let’s say your child isn’t supposed to use their phone before bed and they do. Have a punishment in place and make sure you follow through on it.
6. Monitor Your Child’s Online Activity
There are several different opinions when it comes to how much a parent should monitor their child’s online activity. Maybe you think parents should keep a watchful eye on what their kids are doing online. Or maybe you think it’s an invasion of privacy. The reality is, kids are not ready to self-monitor their internet use. That’s your job as their parent or guardian.
The same way you watch your child when they are swimming is the same reason you should monitor their online activity. Vigilance is crucial to ensure a child’s safety. So, don’t be afraid to use parental controls to keep tabs on what your kids are doing online.
These days, parents can track and monitor their children’s calls online, as well as emails and texts. Parents can even set up alerts if there’s mention of suicide on a child’s phone, or any cyberbullying is detected. You also have the ability to block and filter access to certain websites.
Cyberbullying is often dismissed as a natural part of growing up. While it’s true that there will always be bullies, cyberbullying can have an incredibly negative impact on a child’s life. Besides the emotional strain of cyberbullying, it can also cause mental health issues. By integrating the tips above, you can help your children avoid the negative impacts of cyberbullying.