Practical tools and resources for protecting your kids from cyberbullying.
Cyberbullying: A modern twist on an age-old problem
Bullying is hard to deal with, especially for parents.
In some ways, cyberbullying is the same as in-person bullying: someone says mean things, or even threatens another person. But there is a major difference in cyberbullying: the fact that it’s done behind the screen of a computer, or phone.
Cyberbullies can hide behind their computer screen, becoming essentially anonymous, so the full impact of their actions is muted—for them—by distance. For some of us, the faceless jerk behind mean comments is easy to ignore. We just delete the malicious comments, unfriend or block the person and go on with our lives. But for others, especially kids and teens, dealing with cyberbullies is much more complicated.
Some cyberbullies aren’t anonymous. Some kids know exactly who their aggressors are. But the walls of your house offer less protection—from the emotional impact, at least—now that mean people can get to your kid through their internet-connected devices.
But what can we do, as parents? Is the only solution taking away our kids’ internet access?
There are options, both digitally and in real life.
Set screen limits.
Sometimes, the simplest solutions are the most effective. Set a curfew for phones and other screens, so kids are forced to take a break. This is a good idea even if they aren’t being bullied. Plus, putting your foot down lets your kid save face. They can always just blame you if their friends complain.
For younger kids, site and network monitoring apps and software help you keep an eye on their digital lives. This technology allows you to set timers for how long they’re allowed to view certain sites like YouTube, block sites you don’t trust and keep track of who interacts with your child on the internet.
Don’t feed the trolls!
As parents, it’s sometimes a knee-jerk reaction to defend our children. We want to march over to the bully, or to their parents, and tell them off. While that’s understandable, the way you defend your child is different with cyberbullying, especially if you don’t actually know the person at the other end of the mean messages.
Instead of taking to the screen to fire back at online harassers, you must remember this mantra: Don’t feed the trolls! They get their jollies by making you angry, by getting a rise out of you. Instead, experts advise that you turn off the screen and connect with your kid face-to-face. Make your kid hear that you value and love them, and that negative comments don’t have more weight than positive comments. Also, help them remember they have friends in real life who also value them for who they are.
Build a deep well of strength.
Why is it that we dwell on negative comments more than positive ones? Some say it’s an ingrained part of human smarts. If we remember the bad stuff more intensely, then we’ll learn from the experience and avoid it in the future. But sometimes that part of our brain wiring backfires, and we dwell way, way too much on negative things! Bringing that balance back around again is very important. Understanding that words typed on a screen are just words, and that other, positive words are more important. Positivity is like a muscle, and it needs daily exercise. Help your child by being their positivity exercise buddy.
Teens are wired differently.
It’s true. You may sometimes think the adolescent living in your home is an alien, and you’re right! Well, sort of. Your kid is a human, but adolescent humans have brains that are shaped differently from yours. They have a pleasure center (nucleus accumbens, for you neuroanatomy nuts out there) that is more active than an adult’s. What does this mean? It means they are far more likely to do things for the “likes,” and more deeply affected by the perceived disapproval of their peers. In short, teens are more susceptible to bullying.
Going too far
Sometimes cyberbullying goes too far. There’s no acceptable level of bullying, but the vast majority of it can be tuned out effectively, with the right mental and tech tools. Occasionally, there is a bully that takes their nastiness into the physical world, or just pursues a victim through multiple social media or other electronic outlets with aggression. If you or your child feels unsafe, it’s time to bring in authorities. It’s not overreacting to call your child’s school to bring attention to the matter. If that doesn’t work, calling the police is your next step.
Being an upstander, not a bystander
Show your kids that it’s important to stick up for other people. Sometimes that’s a private message of support, delivered off the wall of Facebook. Or maybe it’s the “Sit With Us” movement (see app below,) inviting kids who feel alienated to be part of a group for lunch. Real-life support goes a long way toward helping those who’ve been cyberbullied feel stronger.
There are apps for everything, including anti-bullying! Here are a couple that we like: