Ten Do’s and Don’ts for Talking about Cyberbullying
By Hilary Smith
Special to the Washington Family Engagement Trust
Teaching our children about safety is a critical part of parenting. Whether it is learning how to cross the street, avoiding electrical outlets, or navigating the digital realm, we owe it to our children to be involved and engaged by empowering them with the necessary skills to flourish and thrive in our society. Unfortunately, as children age, we often overlook one common problem area facing many of our preteens and teens today: cyberbullying.
While bullying isn’t a new childhood problem, cyberbullying is. Today, it is believed that 87 percent of our kids have encountered cyberbullying in some form. That rate is up drastically, almost tripling within the last year. Surprisingly, 24 percent of our sons and daughters admit they don’t know how to react or handle cyberbullying if it should happen to them. This makes it crucial for parents to sit down and have a discussion about cyberbullying with our children.
Even though we didn’t grow up with the threat of cyberbullies, we can help our children navigate around this unfortunately common digital pitfall. To help tackle this complicated issue, please read the following suggestions for empowering our kids when it comes to cyberbullying:
Don’t lecture, yell, or blame. Create a safe environment that allows children to open up about issues facing them. Be calm and listen to their concerns to keep the lines of communication open.
Do lead by example. Children learn by observation and our actions speak louder than any words we might mutter. Modeling politeness and watching what we say is crucial in the process of helping our sons and daughters develop empathy and kindness for others.
Do make sure children understand how their digital footprints will affect their future. Make sure our sons and daughters know that ANYTHING they post, share, or create online has the potential to be shared or retrieved years later. This is a difficult concept for young children to process, but they need to realize that their social media or texting activity can impact college, scholarships, jobs, and even future family members.
Don’t forget to start early and teach children social media etiquette. Our sons and daughters need to have the skills necessary to live in an increasingly digital world. Encourage them to follow “The Grandma Rule” (where they only post or share items that dear old granny would approve), only friend people they actually know, and to never share passwords. By starting young, we can help lay the proper foundation for avoiding cyberbullying.
Do create technology free zones within our homes. One of the main reasons cyberbullying is so devastating is the 24/7 connectivity our children’s devices provide bullies. Keeping devices out of bedrooms and away from family dinners will provide sanctuary from the bullying. As an added bonus, you will be able to have meaningful conversations during meals and family time without interruptions from cell phones or devices.
Do tell children to inform an adult if they encounter cyberbullying. Most acts of bullying will stop within ten seconds if someone intervenes. This is great news, but it only works if a child notifies us. Surprisingly, only one out of ten victims will tell a parent or trusted adult! This only strengthens the need for open dialogue with our sons and daughters.
Don’t respond to a cyberbully. It’s hard, but tell a child to ignore cruel messages. It’s difficult to remain silent, but defending yourself or sending back a mean comment will only fuel the bullying. Have them tell an adult and avoid falling into the bully’s trap.
Do teach children how to document bullying behavior. Show kids how to screenshot, save, or forward ALL bullying posts and messages. By documenting cyberbullying, you are building a case and proving that the bully is repeating behaviors. Evidence is necessary if you need to involve school officials or the authorities if the bullying doesn’t stop.
Don’t allow children to open bullying messages alone. While talking about cyberbullying, let a child know if they experience bullying messages to wait to open ALL messages until a parent is present. Doing this will offer our kids a shoulder to lean on, keep us in the loop, and allow the opportunity to document the cyberbullying.
Do remind children that things will get better! There is a strong correlation between bullying, elevated levels of depression, and thoughts of suicide in victims. If a child is experiencing bullying, help them look beyond today and stress that in one month or even a year from now this will only be a bump in the road.
What tips do you have for overcoming cyberbullying?
Hilary Smith is a freelance writer and tech geek, she specializes in covering the world of digital parenting. She has a degree in journalism from Northwestern. This Texas native braves the winters in Chicago with her ever so slightly spoiled, English bulldog, Chauncey and her two kids ages 3 and 7.