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Knowing what your child is doing online is always a concern for parents. It’s becoming increasingly difficult to protect our little ones form this tech-infused world. One of the of the worst out there we as parents need to be wary of is “cyberbullying”.
For those of who are unfamiliar with the term, it means – intimidate, shame, and embarrass another person over the net. The use of online forums, text messaging, and other social media is most commonly used for this harassment. It doesn’t help that our own children are uncooperative at times like these.
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Children and Cyberbullying
The drive to engage with the most popular social media sites may lead them to hide their activity and lie to us parents. They even go as far as to erase evidence of browsing history and delay acknowledgment of bullying until the situation is out of control.
Extreme forms of cyberbullying include circulating naked photos of another, name-calling – sometimes pushing them to the point of inciting suicide, and goading another into a violent confrontation.
About one in four teen experiences cyberbullying at some point, and one in six reports having initiated it.
Cyberbullying can play a larger role in a child’s life than old-fashioned name-calling because bullies can reach more people online and may be able to make humiliating images that are shared by others to circulate damaging information widely.
Also, kids and teens feel that being mentioned by others online is of great importance, similar to the impact of having their name in the newspaper.
When your child avoids going to school or after-school activities, starts having frequent headaches, sleep disruption, stomachaches, and is combative at home, it’s possible that he/she might be a victim of cyberbullying.
Check with teachers, scout leaders, and others who know your child to find the root of the problem. Others may know of the ongoing bullying and will share information even if your child will not.
Steps to take to prevent or defuse cyberbullying:
- Set limits for social use of the internet and phone apps. Emphasize that children should not respond to harassing or bullying messages to them or to others. They should show restraint not to share popular cyberbullying posts.
- Keep an open dialogue with your children about their use of the internet and phone apps like Snapchat and Instagram.
- Discuss what they see online – this is the “front page” of kids’ lives. Help them build a perspective about what they see, including whether certain posts should be reported to a parent or other adult.
- Encourage your child to show empathy for those being bullied. This also includes sending messages of support and not “liking” or encouraging harassing or demeaning social media posts by sharing them.
- Make cyberbullying a frequent topic for kids in after-school activities like scouts and religious groups. Explain the steps they may take to avoid or defuse negative situations, and empower them with information about regulations and laws.
- Alert school officials and police if something dangerous is shared.
Important Read: 15 Tricks & Activities to Inspire Your Kids to Play Outside
Laws about Cyberbullying
While some may brush off cyberbullying as a modern form of something kids have always engaged in, the seriousness of this activity can’t be understated. Countless suicides have resulted from bullying, and young people have gone to jail for their participation.
States have enacted regulations and laws pertaining to cyberbullying, including distribution of images of other students, making them punishable as manslaughter cases when an individual dies.
Most cyberbullying laws broadly define bullying and allow the definition to be applied to the online activity.
California’s anti-bullying law is prefaced by a statement that bullying can negatively impact a child’s ability to learn. Steps have been created to prevent bullying include frequent training to identify bullying behavior. Encouraging the school staff to act rather than turning a blind eye, and counseling both the bullies and their victims.
A Real-life Scene:
One case in Massachusetts has interested legal scholars due to its implications for bullying: a young woman essentially goaded a friend into suicide via text messages. She was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter because her cyberbullying went further than usual, repeatedly pushing a friend suffering from depression toward suffocating himself with carbon dioxide in his car.
Some hypothesize that her motivation was social: to be seen as the young man’s grieving girlfriend after his death.
Additional Read: 6 Important Types of Play in a Child’s Development
Protection from Cyberbullying Using Software
There are several paid services that allow parents to control and/or monitor kids’ phone use, including blocking or limiting the time on social media. These take an investment of time to learn and money to keep current but without them, it’s challenging to trust kids to maintain stated boundaries.
Similar software allows parental controls on the internet, but determined kids will always find ways to disable or get around it. Consider separating them from screens as a regular part of family life. Set aside time when no member of the family will use or carry a phone or go online.
A trend among Silicon Valley technology insiders is to restrict cell phone use among their own children. They believe screen time is overrated and potentially a dangerous addiction. That is echoed by other parenting, obesity, and sleep experts who enforce strict limits on screen time with their children.
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