For decades, parents have sent their children to school knowing there was a chance they could be bullied in the hallways or in the classrooms. Although this type of face-to-face bullying does still exist, there’s a disturbing new trend called cyberbullying that means your child could be bullied even while he or she is safely at home.
What is Cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying is any type of bullying that occurs using an electronic device, such as a cell phone, tablet or computer. It can happen via text message, phone calls, social media websites or online chat rooms, so your child can be bullied at all hours of the day even if he or she is standing right in front of you at home.
Cyberbullies send mean text messages, post embarrassing pictures, or taunt children on social media websites for the whole world to see. Although there are usually very few witnesses to face-to-face bullying, cyberbullies can send messages or images to a very large audience within just a few seconds, so it is more damaging and harmful to the victim.
Parents may be under the impression their children are not at risk until they are teens, but this is far from the truth. Although the majority of cyberbullying victims are targeted starting at age nine, your child can become a victim as soon as he or she begins to use smartphones, computers, or tablets.
The Effects of Cyberbullying
Victims of cyberbullying often report feeling depressed, angry or frustrated after being attacked. Eighty-three percent of victims surveyed said the cyberbullying they experienced hurt their self-esteem, and an alarming 30% of these victims admitted to having self-harming and suicidal thoughts as a result of the bullying. If you’ve watched the news frequently over the last few years, you’ve probably seen a number of tragic stories about children who have taken their own lives to escape the pain of cyberbullying. These stories illustrate just how dangerous it is, and how vital it is for parents to make an attempt to stop cyberbullying before it even begins, especially if they have young children who have not become victims yet.
Once your children have access to computers or smartphones, it’s your responsibility as a parent to do what you can to prevent cyberbullying. The first step is knowing exactly what your kids are doing on the computer. Talk frequently with them about what websites they visit, whether they talk to any friends, and if they have signed up for social media accounts. If you feel they are being dishonest, it may be time to consider a monitoring tool so you can track what they are doing and who they are speaking with.
Parents need to also establish technology boundaries in the home. For example, if you believe your children are too young to be involved with social media, make it clear these websites are off-limits. Make sure you sit down with your child and discuss what websites he or she is allowed to visit, and how long he or she is allowed to use the computer on a daily basis.
Parents also need to have a discussion with kids on privacy and safety on the internet. Kids believe they are safe while sitting in front of a computer, but they don’t realise what they say or post online is not private. Cyberbullying often occurs when kids send a private message or photo to one person, and then realise that person has sent it to everyone in school. Talk to kids about the dangers of the internet and make sure they know never to speak to strangers or give out their information to ANYONE online. Use this as an opportunity to discuss the importance of passwords, too. Cyberbullying can also occur when bullies gain access to a victim’s profile, so it’s important to keep passwords confidential.
Above all else, parents should look for the warning signs of cyberbullying. Children will be hesitant to talk to you about being a victim of cyberbullying, so it’s up to you to spot it. If your child seems detached from his or her social life or seems to be agitated whenever he or she looks on the phone or computer, it’s time for a heart-to-heart talk about cyberbullying.
Article by by Deborah Lansing