Protecting Your Kids in the Digital Age

It’s never too late to protect your kids as they explore and connect online. Regular check-ins with them and fostering open communication are key.

If you notice a change in their behavior, like becoming withdrawn or depressed or losing interest in things they once loved, it’s important to act.

  1. Educate Your Kids

When kids know how important it is to respect others, they are more likely to resist the urge to bully. Parental guidance and classroom lessons about cyberbullying, in conjunction with social media etiquette and responsible online behavior, help prevent bullying before it starts. Parents can do their part by encouraging open communication about online interactions, setting boundaries on screen time, and enforcing consequences for bad behaviors. Parents can also encourage kids to talk about their digital friends with their school, camp, community, or faith-based staff to develop a safe environment where it’s okay to ask for help.

Kids can also build self-awareness by learning how cyberbullying hurts both victims and bullies. Depending on their age, this could involve role-playing different scenarios, studying the impact of bullying, or completing an assignment that focuses on the harm caused by online behavior.

It’s also important for kids to understand that it’s not their fault if they are being cyberbullied. It may feel uncomfortable for them to talk about the situation, but if they do, they need to remember that it’s not their fault and that telling someone else is the right thing to do.

Whether it’s text messages, emails, or social media posts, kids should never reply to a cyberbully, especially not in anger or frustration. They should also save bullying texts and posts as evidence, report the identity of the person to their school or community, and delete them from their social media contacts lists.

Multiplayer online games, gaming communities, and other social networks are common sites for cyberbullying. It’s important for students to communicate openly with their families about their online relationships and to regularly review privacy settings, blocking options, and reporting mechanisms.

Teachers and other school staff are often the first to see signs of cyberbullying in their classrooms, schools, camps, and other group activities. Kids who do not feel safe at school or during other activities are less likely to pay attention, so it’s vital that educators keep their eyes open for any changes in a student’s behavior or demeanor, including withdrawal from social interactions, a desire to avoid groups of people or a lack of interest in school work.

  1. Encourage Open Communication

Keeping lines of communication open between students and teachers, parents, and students can help with cyberbullying prevention. Talk to your kids about what they’re doing online and how they feel about it, especially if they’re struggling. Bullies often try to isolate their victims and prevent them from talking to others about their experiences. This makes it harder for them to get the help they need.

It’s also important to make sure that your children know that they should never share private information online, including their full name, address, school name, passwords, or the names of any teams with which they play sports. They should also avoid opening messages (emails, texts, Facebook messages) from people that they don’t know or who are known to bully others, as these could contain viruses that infect their devices.

Encourage your child to report any cyberbullying behavior to their teacher or school counselor and to use the tools offered by apps and social media sites to stop bullying behavior in its tracks. The more that they communicate with their teachers, classmates, and friends about what’s happening to them online, the easier it will be for everyone involved to resolve the situation quickly.

When a student is experiencing cyberbullying, you may notice them becoming upset, angry, or withdrawn. You may also notice a sudden change in the way they use their devices. They might hide their screen or texting activity; they might start to keep their phone in their pocket during class, or they may stop checking their social media accounts as frequently.

It’s also important to monitor your child’s behavior in person, as they may be showing signs of being bullied. You should pay attention to their social interactions at lunchtime and in other areas of the school campus. Do they seem more isolated than usual? Do they have a new friend group, or do they seem like they’re trying to distance themselves from their old one?

  1. Establish Clear Rules and Boundaries

If your child is being bullied, try to resist your mama bear instinct. Instead, focus on learning as much as you can about the situation. It’s important to know exactly what has been said and done, including who was involved, when the bullying started, where (on what site or app), why it escalated, and how the bully spread it to others.

Also, make sure your kids and teens understand the importance of not sharing any personal information online. Teach them to use passwords and secure their accounts. Remind them that it’s never okay to talk back to someone who insults them or threatens them and to immediately report any such behavior to you or a trusted adult.

Children and teens who are struggling with depression, anxiety, or other emotional issues may be more likely to bully others, especially if they have trouble fitting in at school. Make sure to encourage them to seek help from a counselor or other health professional.

It’s a good idea to set up some boundaries on your kids’ screen time, such as not allowing them to “friend” people they don’t know or limiting the hours they can access technology. Also, consider having them put it in writing that they will not share private or sensitive information with anyone and that you have the right to monitor their devices.

Bullying is a serious issue and should not be written off as “just kids being kids.” Thousands of children and teens who were bullied commit suicide each year, often because they were overwhelmed by the emotional pain that was caused to them.

It’s important to help your children and teens develop a sense of resilience so that they can bounce back from negative experiences and not be easily swayed by the negativity that surrounds them. This can be achieved by encouraging them to participate in activities they excel at, which can boost their self-esteem and their confidence. Also, it can be helpful to establish some phone-free family times to allow them to reconnect and bond in a healthy way.

  1. Report What’s Happening

If your child is a victim of cyberbullying, it’s important that they let you know. It’s also important that they don’t respond, as bullies are looking for attention, and a response gives them power. Instead, they should document the incidents, saving emails and taking screen captures of the offending posts or text messages. This can help to prove what is happening and will be helpful if they ever have to go to law enforcement or the social media company.

In addition, teens should make sure they are reporting cyberbullying to their school and the appropriate authorities if it happens in school or while they are out in public. This can include threatening behavior or anything that might be illegal, such as sharing private information or harassing someone because of their sexual orientation, race, religion, or disability. Bullies may also be encouraged to spread false rumors about their targets or send them explicit images they did not request.

While cyberbullying existed before the age of computers, social media, and smartphones, these new tools have given bullies a much more public arena. They can target people from anywhere, and they can torment them nonstop with messages or texts. And because bullying is so public, it can be difficult for adults to detect and address.

Aside from the physical harm, victims can feel isolated and lonely. They may begin to believe that everyone is against them or that no one cares, leading to severe mental health issues and possibly even suicide. Educating kids about proper digital etiquette and encouraging open communication is the best way to combat cyberbullying.

Despite efforts by companies and lawmakers, teen views of online harassment remain very divided. Some 65% of urban teens say it is a problem for their age group, compared with 44% of suburban and rural teens. And while the majority of teens say they would report cyberbullying to authorities, many don’t think law enforcement is doing a good job of stopping it.

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