Protecting Your Child Online
You thought you had a lot to worry about during the baby and toddler years. Now, your not-so-little one has her own phone and knows more about technology than you do. How do you keep her safe online? Start with a serious lesson on cyberbullying to keep her from being either the victim or the bully.
What Is Cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying is a modern form of bullying that grew out of today's increased access to technology. Bullying can take many forms, but this type takes place via technology on digital devices like cellphones and computers. People use email, instant messaging services, social media platforms and text messages to bully others.
Examples of cyberbullying include:
- Making fun of someone online
- Hacking into someone's online accounts to send messages to their contacts to make the sender look bad
- Sending any type of electronic communication that is mean or threatening
- Sharing revealing information or images of someone online
- Posting hurtful comments, photos or videos
- Spreading lies online about someone else
- Encouraging someone to harm himself
How to Tell if Your Child Is a Victim
Kids don't always tell their parents when they are being cyberbullied. They may not even realize what's happening or that it's wrong. Some kids worry they may lose their online privileges if they're being cyberbullied. Being vigilant about your child's online activities and observing her behaviors can help you determine if she's being bullied through technology.
Some signs that your child may be a victim of cyberbullying include:
- Avoiding social activities
- Withdrawing from friends and family
- Acting depressed
- Reacting negatively to something on a mobile device
- Hiding mobile device screens when you are near
If you suspect your child is being cyberbullied, talk to her about it. Let her know it's OK to tell you about it. Take screenshots of any bullying situations your child experiences, so you have a record of what's happening. You can usually report bullying to the social media platform or app the bully is using to intimidate your child. If the other person goes to your child's school, talk with school administrators to report the situation. You can also report threatening behaviors to police.
What to Do if Your Child Is the Bully
As much as you hope your child knows better, you may find yourself in a situation in which your child is the instigator or goes along with others who are bullying. You might notice your child spends more time on his device, avoids talking about what he's doing online or hides his screen.
Instead of screaming or accusing your child, sit down with him to ask about the situation. Investigate what's happening and the extent of the situation. Make it clear that his behavior is not acceptable, and talk about how the other person feels.
You may decide to restrict your child's use of technology. Parental controls can help you limit what your child can do online. If your child continues acting like a bully online, consider counseling to help him deal with his emotions.
Tips to Help Prevent Cyberbullying
Even if your child has never dealt with cyberbullying, taking steps now to prevent future issues helps keep your child safe in the cyber world. Being aware of what your child is doing online is a huge part of keeping her safe. Set ground rules for using the computer and any mobile devices. Check the mobile apps she uses and learn how they work, so you know they are appropriate for your child's age.
Teaching your child about online safety also helps prevent cyberbullying. Talk about what cyberbullying is and how it makes people feel. Remind your child to never share personal information online, including passwords. Kids also need to know that anything they put online is still accessible even if they delete it.
Positioning your family computer in a space open to the entire family lets you keep an eye on what your child is doing. Review friends' lists on social media platforms on a regular basis to make sure your child actually knows the people she's friends with online. Staying involved in your child's life makes it easier to monitor technology use and prevent cyberbullying.