Of all of the changes between the generation that you grew up in and the generation that is currently in the midst of their teens, technology and the Internet are probably the largest. While you might know how to keep your teen safe from the various challenges you encountered during your own adolescence, it can be difficult to know what to do to keep your teen safe from online bullies; after all, you didn’t have to deal with that during your own teen years! Here is a guide on what cyberbullying is, how to protect your teen from online bullying, and what to do if you suspect your teen has been bullied via the Internet.
What Is Cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying is simply a type of bullying that takes place over the Internet or via electronics. It can happen through text, email, social media, message boards, or any other online platform. The Internet is relatively anonymous; your teen might not even know who is doing the bullying. It’s also faceless; even if your teen does know who is making threatening, intimidating, or mean statements, people tend to be more aggressive online than they would be in a face-to-face situation.
For any type of interaction to be classified as bullying (or, in this case, cyberbullying), there are a few characteristics that must be true.
- First, the action must be repeated. A one-off comment is not bullying.
- Second, it has to be done to intimidate or harass another person. If the other person doesn’t realize that his or her actions are intimidating or harassing your teen, then it might not be bullying.
- Finally, there has to be a power imbalance at play. This could be that the other person is an adult, larger or stronger than your teen, part of a group while your teen is just one individual, or of a higher social status (such as someone from the “in group” harassing a teen who is less popular).
Know What Your Teen Is Doing Online
As teens get closer to adulthood, parents should, of course, give them more privacy when it comes to what they’re doing on the Internet. For young teens in particular, however, it’s important to know what your child is looking at, reading, and participating in. One way to do this is to place the computer and tablets in common areas of the home.
Once kids get smartphones, they generally bring them into their bedrooms, which makes it more difficult to monitor usage. Many parents make it a requirement that they can have their teen’s password and can check their phone at any time. While you might not check it very often, knowing that you might can keep your teen from getting into trouble online. If you do check it, you can also see if they are involved in any type of cyberbullying situations.
Other parents install apps on their teens’ smartphones. These apps send a copy of every text and message sent or received to their parents’ phone. This might be an option worth exploring if you suspect that your teen is deleting potentially dangerous messages. To avoid breaking your teen’s trust, you might consider telling your teen if you are going to place this type of app on his or her phone. Other parents have a reason or desire to keep this a secret. You need to consider what is right for your family when it comes to balancing keeping your teen safe with granting them some autonomy and privacy. There is no answer that is right for everyone.
Talk to Your Teen About Safety
One of the most important steps you can take to keep your teen safe from online bullies is to talk to them about how to stay safe online. They should understand that cyberbullying is actual bullying and that in some cases, it is a crime. They should also understand the ramifications of bullying; sometimes, suicides are made more likely by being the victim of a bully.
Encourage your teen to talk to you right away if they are being harassed by online bullies. Also, tell them that you expect they will never be part of bullying someone else.
In addition to talking about cyberbullying, make sure your teen knows how to keep him- or herself safe online. They should not give out their real name, address, town, or school name to strangers. Remind your teen that not everyone online is who they say they are. There are some videos available online that show how predators are able to gain access to children and teens simply by impersonating another minor. Consider showing these to your teen and talking about how important it is to remain anonymous on the Internet unless they are sure that they are interacting with a person that they know well.
Model Good Online Behavior
One of the ways that you can keep kids safe from online bullies is to model good online behavior yourself. If your teen sees you giving your personal information to strangers or writing bullying messages on social media, they will assume that you don’t mean for them to stay away from these behaviors. Be aware of the privacy settings on anything that you are sharing. This is good advice whether or not you think your teens can find your messages; adolescents are often more Internet-savvy than their parents, so you might be surprised at what they manage to find.
Know When to Get Authorities Involved
Many school districts and towns have policies regarding bullying and cyberbullying. Find out if yours does and don’t hesitate to get them involved if your teen is the victim of cyberbullying. Also, there are some types of bullying that are against the law everywhere. If you suspect that an adult is trying to gain access to your child by impersonating a teen or if someone is sending threatening messages to your child, then contact the local authorities to find out what your next steps should be.
There are many great things about technology, but the potential for bullying online is one of the dangers of the Internet. Being aware of the issue can help you make the decisions necessary to keep your teen safe from online bullies.