When you and I were in school we might have experienced bullying, either personally or from a distance, in the classroom, the playground or recess time. For our children today, bullying has taken on another dimension…the virtual dimension. This is something that you and I as adults may not even be aware of. But parents, this is out there and it is REAL for our children, especially our tweens and teens. Part of the reality is that digital technology and the internet play a huge part in the lives of our children as they use it for school assignments and their social life. This social connectivity can be online or via their mobiles, be it on Facebook, Twitter, Whatsapp and other social media sites.
So, what is Cyber Bullying?
Cyber Bullying has been defined as when a child, preteen or teen is tormented, threatened, harassed, humiliated, embarrassed or otherwise targeted by another child, preteen or teen using the Internet, interactive and digital technologies or mobile phones.
It can include abusive texts and emails, hurtful messages, images or videos imitating others, excluding others online, nasty online gossip and chat.
The fact that cyber bullying can happen 24/7 [and not just in person], can be done in anonymity, and once out there can go viral, makes cyber bullying even more damaging than traditional face-to-face bullying.
As a parent what should I know?
The first thing is for you to get acquainted with your child’s cyber world. Find out where your children surf, what are the popular social sites amongst kids and talk to your kids about the possibility of cyber bullying and safety. Do reinforce that even if they see a post that is targeted at another child, by their ‘liking/ sharing/forwarding’ it they are guilty of cyber bullying by association.
The next thing is to look for signs that might point to your child being cyber bullied. Some of these might be:
- Changes in online behaviour– is your child suddenly spending less time online? Has he asked you about closing down his account, or about security features to block others out?
- Distress– does your child become annoyed, upset, stressed or angry after he has been online? Has his school attendance or performance reduced?
- Secrecy–does your child act secretively when using the internet or phone? Does he close down the computer when you walk into the room?
As a parent how can I help if my child is being cyber bullied?
If you worry that your child is being cyber bullied, talk to him. Assure him that you are on his side, that he did not do something wrong and he does not deserve to be bullied. Here are some tips you could share with him:
- Do not respond or retaliate. Tell him to talk to you about it, rather than ‘letting off steam’ online by seeking revenge online. It could make things worse and he might be accused of cyberbullying.
- Tell him to block the bully and change his privacy settings. With your help he can also report this to the site administrator and the school authorities.
- Help him save these abusive messages as evidence, like phone messages, print emails or social networking conversations/photos. He can also tell their friends that might be privy to these messages to collect this too.
- Encourage him to be involved in anti-cyber bullying campaigns. There are many such initiatives online. This will give him a sense of control and empowerment. If he knows of a friend being bullied, remind him not to join in. If he feels confident, he should also stand up for his friend online.
Bottom line, parents you have to be aware and get familiar with the virtual world that your child is a part of. In this case, ignorance is not bliss!
Re-published with permission from the blog of ParentEdge, a bi-monthly parenting magazine that aims to expose parents to global trends in learning and partner with them in the intellectual enrichment of their children. This blog was written by Aparna Samuel Balasundaram. She is a USA- Licensed Psychotherapist and Parent and Child Expert with 10 years of experience in the USA.