If you are like most parents, you have been concerned for years about the TV shows and video games your child watches. Social media and cyberbullying are new concerns to add to your plate. You may feel you don’t have a good understanding of the online world of Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter. Depending on the ages of your children, this may not apply to you yet. However, by being alert, you can assist your children in keeping their environment safe, now and as your children grow.
Research shows that 71% of U.S. teenagers use more than one social platform. Children nowadays also spend an enormous amount of time on social media. A survey by the non-profit group Common Sense Media showed that 8 to 12 year-olds were online six hours per day, much of it on social platforms, and 13 to 18 year-olds a whopping nine hours!
Social media can be particularly addictive for tweens and teens. It also opens the door to a variety of different issues, like cyberbullying, inappropriate sharing, and talking to strangers.
Access to social media is also central to teens’ developing social identity. It’s the way that they connect to their friends, and it can be a healthy way to hang out. The key is to figure out some boundaries so that it remains a positive experience.
Safe Rules for Social Media
Discuss the pressure to share
Children often feel pressure to share pictures and other details about their lives. You can have a positive conversation with them about the value of privacy to help relieve them of some of that pressure.
Discuss the permanence of social media
Remind your children that there is no such thing as deleting something on social media. Knowing that whatever they share is permanent (even if they take it down) will encourage them to think about what they post.
Educate about online strangers
Predators use the internet to track and contact children. It’s important your children know who they accept friend requests from.
Monitor your child’s activity online
Make sure that the content your child posts is harmless with no identifiable features. Adjust the privacy settings to make your child’s accounts as private as possible. Block location access to all social media apps.
Enforce a safe environment. Do not let your kids on social media until they’re old enough. Keep the computer in a public location. Limit the amount of time spent on social media.
Our children’s lives have moved online. Unfortunately, their bullies have moved online too.
Cyberbullying is frequently in the news, with reports of teen suicides due to online harassment.
Cyberbullying comes in many forms: spreading rumors and sending threatening messages via social media, texting, or email, pretending to be another child and posting embarrassing material under their name, forwarding private photos without consent, and generally posting online about another child with the intent to humiliate or degrade them.
Cyberbullying is particularly harmful because it is so public. In the past, if a kid was bullied on the playground, perhaps a few of his peers saw. Now, a child’s most private information can be splashed across the internet and is there permanently unless reported and taken down.
Cyberbullying can negatively affect the online reputation not only of the victim, but also of the perpetrator, and have a deep impact on that child’s future, including college admissions and employment.
It is also extremely persistent. If a child is the target of traditional bullying, his or her home is more often than not a place of refuge. Because digital platforms are constantly available, victims of cyberbullying struggle to find any relief.
It’s often very difficult to tell if your child is being bullied online. It happens online, so parents and teachers are less likely to overhear or notice it. Fewer than half of children bullied online tell their parents or another adult what they are going through, according to internet safety organization i-SAFE. In fact, according to a US government survey, 21% of children aged 12 to 18 have experienced bullying, and an estimated 16% were bullied online.
The best way to prevent cyberbullying or to stop it in its tracks is to be aware of your child’s behavior. A number of warning signs may present themselves.
A child who is bullied may shut down their social media account and open a new one. He or she may begin to avoid social situations, even if they enjoyed being social in the past. Victims (and perpetrators) of cyberbullying often hide their screen or device when other people come into their vicinity and become cagey about what they do online. They may become emotionally distressed or withdrawn.
Talking to Your Child about Cyberbullying
Ask gentle questions to determine the situation.Work with teachers, mentors, and guidance counselors to get support for your child.Encourage your children to share with you if their friends or peers are bullied.Educate your children about the repercussions of cyberbullying.Clarify that even liking or sharing hurtful content is unacceptable.Encourage your child to reach out to others who are bullied and lend support.
What should you do if your child is bullied?
Document the bullying. Take screenshots of abusive messages or behavior. This will help you to report the bullying to the relevant authorities.Talk to the teachers in school. Make sure they are aware of the situation.Report it to your child’s school. You can also report it to the social media or gaming platform where it is hosted. If your child receives threats, don’t hesitate to contact the police.Talk to other parents and encourage them to speak to their children.
Fortunately, helping to keep your child safe does not require a mastery of the use of internet platforms. Thank goodness! Most of us would never be able to keep up.
What can be just as challenging, and is more important, is to have frequent, open and honest discussions with your children about their lives. You are the one who has your child’s best interests at heart. The very best person to keep your child safe online is you. Talking about how to stay safe on the internet is an excellent conduit to build a trusting and positive relationship with your child.
Source: The Ultimate Parent Guide for Protecting Your Child on the Internet, by Ariel Hochstadt