While many of us enjoy the increase in connectedness that social media brings, there can also be a dark side, commonly known as cyberbullying.
Cyberbullying is bullying carried out via text messages or social media and can involve abusive messages or even the bully pretending to be someone else.
As a parent, it can be frightening to think of your child being the target of a cyberbully, although many parents feel a sense of helplessness when it comes to managing what a child is exposed to online. Below are some common-sense tips to keep your child safe from online bullies.
- Ensure that you keep open communication with your child regarding his or her online activities. I recently wrote an article titled “Social Media and Your Teenager” that contains several tips relevant to cyberbullying.
- Ensure that managing cyberbullying is part of the ongoing education of your child with respect to online boundaries. That education should include:
- Defining cyberbullying so that your child can recognise it when he or she sees it.
- Teaching your child not to respond to abusive messages.
- Helping your child to identify a person to whom he or she can turn if your child is targeted by a cyberbully.
- Never punish your child for being a target. It can feel instinctive to want to keep your child offline if you find that he or she is being bullied. However, this can feel like punishment to your child and make it less likely your child will come to you if bullied again.
- Always be alert to sudden changes in your child’s mood and behaviour. If your child seems to be down or behaving in a way that is not typical, ask your child if anything is wrong and really listen to your child. Try to suppress your impulse to take over and “fix it”.
- If your child is bullied, talk through the advantages and disadvantages of different ways of dealing with the online bully: telling the bully’s parents or the school, blocking the bully, or even doing nothing. Working through the problem in this way will help your child build problem solving skills and will build trust in your relationship.
- Always ensure that your child knows that a bully is responsible for the bullying behaviour and that your child did nothing to provoke the bully. Help your child to take the bully’s perspective in order to understand that bullies do not feel very good about themselves.
- In severe or serious instances, you may opt to report the cyberbullying to law enforcement.