Most parents were not surprised when Safer Internet Day announced in early 2016 that three-quarters of children aged between 10 and 12 have social media accounts. For the vast majority of children, these networks allow them to interact with their friends, learn and embrace technology in a positive manner. For some, cyberbullying is affecting their experiences.
As parents, we can find it hard to deal with this topic. We simply haven't experienced it ourselves. Let's aim to understand it better together and get three helpful tips on what to do should it happen to your child.
The scale and ease of cyberbullying
Cyberbullying may not seem very different from "real world" bullying. It's the harassment of a person, making them feel isolated because of their opinions, the way they look or what they do. However, the big differences lie in the scale and the ease of online bullying.
When it comes to scale, we need to understand that social media accounts are networks. Each message posted can be seen by friends, friends of friends and beyond. Cyberbullying opens your child up to hundreds of opinions and views instantly.
The ease of cyberbullying is often underestimated. When you log into Facebook the next time, be mindful of how easily you click "Like" button. Consider now how many children click "Like" on a comment they find funny that may be negative towards someone. For the child affected, it feels like all of these "Likes" agree with the hurtful comment, and what is worse is that they are notified of it.
For parents, it's vital to understand the scale of social networks and how easily a negative comment can grow.
Tip #1: No more Facebook - Not
The instant reaction is often to take away access to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, SnapChat and others. While this is natural, it is unlikely to help or could even cause more harm (think of all the possibilities your child has to enter the Internet, the existing relationships/friendships they have. This is the way your child communicates these days). Remember the saying "Don't make a permanent decision based on a temporary emotion".
Removing social media may make your child feel even more isolated and hurt by having to leave their social presence, rather than relieved that the bullies are being kept away.
Our first tip is to not cancel accounts on Facebook and other networks but to speak to your child about friends and friendship. The connections your child has online should be the same as in the real world. In other words, they should interact with actual friends. This alone will already help to reduce the scale and even likelihood of being cyberbullied. You should then limit visibility to your child's accounts to "only friends" and make all posts private.
Tip #2: Understand the extent of the bullying
Every form of bullying, no matter how great or small will impact a child. How we, as parents, react to cyberbullying depends very much on the extent.
Our next tip is to sit with your child and read over the comments, posts etc that are harmful. Check how long this has been going on and whether you can recognise the other children involved.
You know your own child and how things affect him or her. Self-esteem plays a big role here. For example, a throwaway comment about a bad outfit may not affect one child, but will deeply hurt another. From your investigation check in on the self-esteem level of your child. Can you help it grow?
Cyberbullying is very serious, especially if larger groups are involved. Should your investigation reveal that a group of students is involved, notify the school. Just as you would with offline bullying. Speak to the teachers and see what can be done together.
Always speak to your child and let them know what your plans are.
Tip #3: Putting out the fire
Bullying is like a fire. Only if it's fed, will it continue to burn. If the victim is no longer accessible or there is no reaction, then the fire is not getting fed.
Our third tip is to remove the bullies from your child's social media presence. Each application has the option to block or unfriend connections. This ensures no one can post damaging content on your child's timeline. Furthermore, you can report the offending post to the social media channel. Check their help pages on how to do this.
Let them know you are there to help
Social media is here to stay and for everyone to enjoy. Its purpose was to connect people and share experiences. For our children, social media is part of their life. As parents, we need to understand it better and put the precautions in place to safeguard our kids from potential harm. Implement tip one and three today to safeguard your children and keep talking about friendship and online safety will help prevent your child being cyberbullied.