Cyberbullying

A Q&A for parents.

Q: What steps should I take if my child is being cyberbullied?
A: There are some easy steps you can follow if your child is being cyberbullied. Let your child know to come to you first, and then assess the level of severity and the type of bullying. If the cyberbullying is at a high level of severity, such as threatening physical harm to your child or the family, it may be appropriate to contact the local police department, especially if the cyberbully is anonymous. If you or your child knows the cyberbully, it is appropriate to contact school administration to have the school approach the bully’s parents. Because directly engaging with the cyberbully can escalate the situation, make sure your child does not respond to or delete messages from a cyberbully. This evidence can be kept as a record of the malicious behavior, while disengaging from the situation helps prevent additional problems from surfacing. Remember: Cyberbullying is easier to prevent than to fix. Change any relevant account information and have your child turn off the computer. By walking away, your child becomes less accessible to bullying and harassment, and is less affected by the situation. Assure your child that life goes on without a Facebook profile!

Q: How can I tell if my child is a victim of cyberbullying?
A: The most important questions to ask to gauge this are: Is the behavior directed at your child specifically and is it repetitive behavior or a one-time occurrence? These two questions also permit you to better define what counts as cyberbullying. Sometimes people act differently on the Internet because they feel it gives them the cover of anonymity. If this is how the person acts to everyone, the offender may be simply expressing him or herself in a bad way. However, if the maliciousness is only toward your child, then your child may be a victim of cyberbullying. When checking into a potential cyberbullying situation, consider whether or not the problematic behavior is being repeated. One mean message could be a misunderstanding or misinterpretation, even unintentional. But, if the offender keeps contacting your child with problematic behavior over and over, it’s likely an attempt to be a bully.

Q: What is a good age for me to start educating and talking to my kids about Internet safety?
A: It is never too soon for you to begin educating your children about Internet safety. As soon as a child starts using the computer, it’s wise to open the discussion about online activity. Before age 10, serve as a guide and be a direct part of your children’s Internet use. After age 10, engage in a regular dialogue with your kids about their online usage, habits and whereabouts. This open dialogue reinforces that your kids should always speak to you about any potential cyberbullying issues.

Q: How can we make our family computer safer for our kids?
A: There are several things you can do as a parent to make your family computer safe for your kids to use on a regular basis. First, keep the computer in a public area of the home. A kitchen, family room, or any high-traffic space allows you to see what kind of activity is taking place on the computer. Next, establish a set of guidelines for your kids to follow. This gives you the opportunity to check in regularly on how your children are following or not following the guidelines, while also opening the discussion for what they’re doing and seeing online. Lastly, ensure that all security and safety settings are enabled on the programs your kids use. Ask them to explain their privacy settings on social media channels, and the importance of using these settings.