Teenagers spend a shocking average of nine hours online each day, and preteens ages 8 to 12 spend an average of six hours online. This opens up a completely new world of cyberbullying, or bullying online. In fact, over half of teens state that they’ve been a victim of cyberbullying at some point. Face-to-face contact is no longer necessary for bullying to occur; even if they do start it in person, they can continue it online, via text message, or social media apps, giving your child or teen no way to escape it. So what can you do to prevent cyberbullying? The following tips can help you protect your child or teen.
1. Monitor Their Phone and Online Activity
As a parent, you have the right and obligation to check up on your child’s phone and online activity to prevent cyberbullying. It may feel like an invasion of privacy but it is an effective way of protecting your child. You would want to know if someone was bullying your child face-to-face in school, right? The same holds true online. Young people have a tendency to keep the bullying to themselves until it gets to the point where they can’t handle it anymore. At this point, the detrimental effects have likely already begun. If you check your child’s phone and online activity daily, you can track the bullying, keep the evidence, and take the necessary steps to put an end to it with authorities if necessary.
2. Teach Your Child Right From Wrong With Social Media
If you don’t talk to your children about what is right and wrong on social media and online, they won’t know. Teach your child to come to you if anyone says anything mean about them, sends them threatening messages, or makes them feel uncomfortable in any way. Encourage your teen not to respond to the damaging messages but rather to take a screenshot, show you or another trusted adult, and go through the steps of reporting the situation if warranted.
3. Prevent Cyberbullying by Setting up Your Child’s Privacy Settings
Your teen may feel as though they are excluding people if you set up privacy settings, but it is a necessary step for safety to prevent cyberbullying. You or your teen can control who sees your teen’s information, stories, and chats. It also controls who can talk to your preteen or teen. If your child balks at the idea of allowing only friends to see their stories and chats, explain that it is for his or her own safety. Make it a rule, not an option. If your child breaks the rule, make it clear that there will be consequences, including taking social media or even the entire phone away.
4. Talk About Safe Online Behavior
Young people must learn and internalize the idea that once you put something online, you cannot take it back. Even with apps like Snapchat, where the snap disappears after the recipient views it, the images or words are never gone forever. Explain to your teen that you never know who took a screenshot of the information or passed it along to someone else. Teach your child to stop and think if the picture, statement, or question is something they would share to someone’s face. Is it something they wouldn’t mind their parents seeing? If they can’t answer that with an immediate affirmative answer, they probably shouldn’t share it online.
5. Don’t Make It a Punishment
Young people can be afraid to tell their parents about cyberbullying for fear that they will get in trouble. Make sure your child understands that you have an open door policy. You would rather find out about something from them immediately than wait until things are out of control and hearing it from someone like the school, their friends, or even the police. Let your teen know that you need to know what is going on so that you can protect him or her, not punish.
6. Block the Perpetrators
If your child does become a victim of cyberbullying, have him or her block the perpetrator from the app or from calling or texting. This can eliminate the need for you to take the app or phone away completely and could help things calm down. It may not be the only solution you need, especially if the bully is relentless or if other people have been involved, but it does give your child a short reprieve from the bullying while you decide the next step to take.
7. Learn About the School’s Policies
Even if the cyberbullying is not happening at school, your local school district might have an anti-bullying policy that includes actions that take place online. Ask your teen’s guidance counselor for a copy of this policy and follow the steps recommended to get the school involved. If there is pressure on the person doing the bullying to stop from school authorities, this could lead to a quick resolution and prevent cyberbullying from happening in the future.
8. Don’t Be Afraid to Get the Authorities Involved
Depending on the age of your child and the specific actions taking place, the cyberbullying might be against the law. If your preteen or teen is being harassed, threatened, or there is sexual content in the messages, do not hesitate to get the local authorities involved. If you aren’t sure that a crime is taking place, you can call the local police (use the non-emergency number) to talk about it with someone.
9. Get Counseling for Your Child
Whether your teen is the person being bullied or the person doing the bullying, counseling can be warranted to help them deal with the situation and learn how to cope with these types of incidents in the future. Bullying can cause low self-esteem, depression, and even carries a risk of suicide, so be vigilant and do not hesitate to get your child the help that they need.
While there’s no foolproof way to prevent cyberbullying, these tips can help you reduce the risk of it happening to your child. The most important thing you can do as a parent is to stay on top of their social media accounts. Be vigilant, have an open door, and always set boundaries so that your child has the best chance at avoiding being the victim of cyberbullying or of getting caught up in actions that could label him or her as a bully.