Raising children is obviously a difficult task. From the minute we found out we were expecting, most of us began planning, baby proofing, and purchasing much needed baby gear. We poured over every piece of literature about sleep schedules, feeding options, and how to swaddle an infant. Now, after a few years have passed, our sons and daughters are on the verge of becoming teenagers.
Navigating the world of acne creams and mood swings is difficult on any given day, but many of us are caught off-guard by digital challenges like sexting, identity theft, and cyberbullying that pose a threat to the wellbeing of our adolescents. Suddenly, we find ourselves facing unknown territory in the parenting realm. This changing digital landscape makes it essential that we explain Internet and device safety to empower our children to thrive in today’s world.
Bullying isn’t a new problem facing children, but it has evolved right along with technology. Our electronic devices have enabled kids access to each other 24 hours a day from anywhere. This constant access, when combined with bullying or other dangerous digital behaviors, can create a frightening scenario for our families.
First, we need to define cyberbullying with our children, because they often don’t agree with us on what behaviors are actually considered cyberbullying. To help get everyone on the same page, give clear examples so children will be able to avoid common digital pitfalls and safely communicate with technology. The following items are good examples to include during a conversation about cyberbullying.
Sending mean or threatening messages or emails
Next, it’s important to realize that both boys and girls can bully online, but often it surfaces in different forms. For example, boys will commonly use threatening or sexual messages to hurt someone. Girls, on the other hand, often spread rumors, leave out people, tell secrets, or send messages with the sole purpose of making fun of someone.
As parents, it is vital that we sit down and start a discussion about ways to handle cyberbullying appropriately. Surprisingly, 24 percent of our children acknowledge they are unsure of how to react when they witness or encounter cyberbullying. Even though we weren’t raised with social media, we still have the ability to help our kids overcome cyberbullying with the following tips:
Just listen. It’s important that we let our children use their voices to share their thoughts and concerns. To do this, we need to strive to create an atmosphere where kids feel safe and that often requires us to avoid lecturing or judging.
Model a healthy relationship with technology and other people. Our kids are always watching and often pick up our habits, good or bad. We need to lead with a good example by being considerate, kind, and not repeating gossip.
Begin teaching social media etiquette early. A good guide to follow is the “Grandma Rule”. Tell children to only post, share, or like items that they would feel comfortable with a grandparent seeing. If we start this concept when a child is young, we can lay the proper groundwork to preventing cyberbullying and help ensure a child will protect their digital footprint. This is also a nice segway into dialogue about sexting or oversharing.
Try keeping technology in common living areas and out of bedrooms. This will help ensure our kids can still find sanctuary in our homes and be able to disconnect from the unlimited connectivity their devices provide potential bullies. As an added bonus, children might be less likely to partake in questionable activity if there is a threat of someone interrupting them.
Encourage kids to report cyberbullying. Data suggests that 87 percent of our sons and daughters have encountered some form of digital bullying. This is frightening on many levels, but we can empower our kids to stop the cycle by seeking help from trusted adults. In fact, 50 percent of bullying acts stop within 10 seconds if a bystander intervenes.
Remind children that things will get better! If a child is going through a difficult time, help them realize that this is only a bump in the road. At the moment it might not seem like things will improve, but eventually, this will pass and life will go on. Remain positive and encourage them to look ahead.
Do you have any tips for explaining cyberbullying to children?