One of my favorite things to talk about is the good that social media can do. Whether it's raising awareness about important issues, helping small business owners change their lives, or helping people make new connections they never would have made otherwise, it's a tool that has transformed our world for the better.
For many parents, we were raised in a time when people who were bullied were just encouraged to toughen up. We're beginning to learn how dangerous this can be with many tweens and teens choosing to take their own life because of the shame and horror caused by cyber bullying.
It's not just about toughening up. Honestly – it's about protecting our children from a danger real enough to affect them for the rest of their lives.
Cyber Bullying Facts Every Parent Should Know
Over half of adolescents and teens have been bullied online, and about the same number have engaged in cyber bullying. Bully victims are between 2 to 9 times more likely to consider suicide than non-victims.
Sadly, parents aren't as aware about this threat as they should be. Some studies estimate that only 7% of parents are worried about cyber bullying.
I don't know about you, but that sounds like a huge problem in perception, to me.
Cyber Bullying Prevention: The Number 1 Thing Parents Can Do
There is one vital skill that parents can use to both prevent and respond to cyber bullying. It's not a piece of software. It's not even a “technical” skill – though it is one that parents need help developing.
The best thing you can do to prevent and respond to cyber bullying?
Communicate with your child.
It's simple – but I'm not saying it's easy (and I say that as the parent of 2 older boys)! But every strategy to prevent and respond to cyber bullying is rooted in communicating with our kids. Notice I didn't say it's talking at them.
Preventing cyber bullying takes staying aware of threats to our kids even as those threats continue to change. It takes talking to our kids about your family's rules about security and privacy online.
It takes communicating with your kids throughout their growing up years so that you are a trusted adult they can talk to at once if they become the victim of cyber bullying. It takes keeping that relationship with your kids strong so they know you are on their side and will help protect them and will respond appropriately to anyone who bullies them.
It's important for your kids to know that if you're providing the resources for them to be online, whether via smart phone or computer at home, you reserve the right to monitor their online activity – for their own safety.
Lest you think this is too much of a breach of privacy, realize that you're also teaching them to think about their online posting – before it affects their ability to get a job or get into college. And when they enter the work world, I guarantee their employer will reserve that very same right.
Now if you do monitor your kids' online activity, it's important to know what to confront them with and what to let go. If you start to use it as a way to nitpick every single behavior you find bothersome – even the little stuff – you do risk them finding ways to have alternate accounts you know nothing about. It's important you realize that this is a tool for you to help protect your children – use it with that at the front of your mind.
Cyber Bullying Response: What to Do If Your Child is a Victim
Again, communication is key. Believe your child, and believe the seriousness of the threat. Keep a record of the incidents and pursue appropriate responses from the school (if applicable), the parents, and local law enforcement if need be. It's critical that your children know that you are on their side, and that this won't be swept under the rug.
Has your family had to deal with cyber bullying? What have been the most helpful strategies for you?
Some additional cyber bullying resources: