If you think your child is being bullied online, or if you simply want to prevent it from happening, here are some steps you can take:
1. Make yourself a safe person to talk to.
More than half of bullied teens have sought advice when they witnessed meanness or cruelty online. Of those, half turn to friends or peers for advice, while a third turn to parents.
If you want your child to turn to you when she encounters meanness online, you need to set yourself up as the go-to person before bullying begins. Talk to your children frequently about appropriate and inappropriate online behaviors, and make sure you listen to your children when they come to you with questions or concerns.
2. Set security and privacy standards with your kids.
Parents, especially those who grew up with computers or the Internet, may take the basics of computer literacy (like not sharing passwords) for granted. For teens, however, such behaviors may feel like a sign of trust of their peers. As many as 30% of teens share their passwords with friends or significant others.
Sit down with your children and set safety and privacy standards, including giving you a list of their social networking and e-mail accounts and passwords. Start by having your children sign the Family Internet Safety Contract, included at the end of A Parent’s Guide to Cyberbullying.
If your children are old enough to use social networks, you should also sit down with them and walk through the privacy settings (for instance, limiting who can see photos or status updates). Since Facebook in particular is notorious for changing its privacy settings with little warning, make sure to double-check them once a month.
3. Monitor their Internet use.
Much like you wouldn’t let your child go to a stranger’s house, as a parent it is your responsibility to know where your children go online. In addition to keeping all computers and mobile devices in a public space, sign up for an Accountability service like Covenant Eyes. You will receive a regular report of all of the sites your kids visit.
With regular Internet use reports, you can see when your kids are heading down paths that may put them at risk. You may even discover when your child is being harassed…and cut off the abuse before it gets worse.
4. Teach your kids how to respond to bullies.
Given that 88% of social media-using teens have witnessed other people be mean or cruel on social network sites, it’s important to teach your child how to respond, whether it’s an attack on them personally or on a friend or acquaintance. In some instances, ignoring the behavior may be the right response, since the bully may only be seeking attention. They also need to be taught to stick up for another person who is being bullied…and, when necessary, to approach you, a teacher, or another authority figure.
5. Work with your child to determine the course of action.
If you discover your child being bullied, it may be easy to panic and take extreme measures. For instance, your response may be to take away their Internet access (after all, if your child can’t see the bullying, they can’t be hurt by it). However, this may mean that your child no longer comes to you with their problems. The better solution might be to ask them to explain the situation fully and work with them to decide on the next steps. You may still need to take decisive action, but by discussing the issue first you and your child can often find an effective solution.
6. Block and report the bully.
An easy solution to prevent online harassment is to block the bully from your child’s profile. Facebook allows you to unfriend users, for example. If your child’s profile has been hacked, use this opportunity to change the passwords, and if a fake profile has been set up in their name, use the site’s reporting tools to request that the page be removed.
7. Contact the parents of the bully.
It is entirely possible that the bully’s parents have no idea what is going on. If your child knows the name of the attacker, contact their parents, explain calmly how your child has been hurt by this behavior, and ask them to speak with their child. Be careful in your tone; it is likely that the bully’s parents will leap to defend their child, and speaking with anger will only exacerbate the issue.
8. Notify the school administrators.
Since cyberbullying is usually accompanied by physical bullying, consider approaching your child’s teachers or principal. Since some schools have been sued for stepping in and punishing a child for online harassment, most schools will be cautious about taking action. However, by notifying them, they can be on the lookout for harsh teasing in the classroom and in the school halls.
9. Save the evidence.
In some cases, bullies have been brought to court for their behavior. Start collecting evidence of the bullying behavior long before this is necessary. Take screenshots of hurtful comments, and have your child use chatting tools which record conversations.
10. Consider getting counseling for your child.
If the bullying is ongoing, professional care may be required to help your child cope. A counselor can help a teen work through the pain and learn coping methods. If in doubt, seek professional care sooner rather than later.
Photo credit: francisco_osorio