How to Protect Your Kids from Cyberbullies
Through the Internet, email, instant messaging and blogging, cyberspace has become part of the cultural landscape for adolescents today. Its negative effects are becoming well-publicized. Cyberbullying is one such negative aspect of the online world of kids. This tip sheet is aimed at helping parents understand cyberbullying and to provide tips for protecting their kids from cyberbullies.
What is Cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying takes a variety of forms, but commonly includes the use of negative, inappropriate or threatening email, instant messages, cell phone text messages, posts to blogs or websites. Additionally, some cyberbullies pretend to be someone else and post online messages in order to cause trouble for the real person. Others pose as “friends” in order to coax personal information from an individual with the intent of broadcasting the information to others for the purpose of embarrassing or hurting that person.
How Common is Cyberbullying?
According to researchers at Clemson University, cyberbullying has been experienced by 18% of the middle schoolers they surveyed. “Our statistics are conservative,” said Clemson psychologist Robin Kowalski. For every incident reported, many more go unreported. (Source: Time Magazine, 8/8/05)
Victims Often Resort to Cyberbullying.
Researchers reported that kids who are victimized “seem to be heavily involved in bullying others.” The reason? While intimidation often prevents kids who have been physically bullied from retaliating physically, cyberbullying eliminates the intimidation factor. As a result, girls rule the cyberbullying world; guys still rule the bullying world on playgrounds and school hallways. (Source: Time Magazine 8/8/05)
How to Protect Your Kids From Cyberbullies:
1. Educate yourself and your kids about electronic communications. Take the time to learn about how email, instant messaging, cell phone text messaging and social networking works. Learn what security measures are available in these tools to help block unwanted and inappropriate messages from being delivered.
2. Set ground rules with your family about electronic communications. Give kids clear guidelines on what constitutes acceptable and unacceptable electronic communication. Determine what kinds of personal information, if any, you deem to be acceptable for your kids to give out electronically. Have your kids agree to report to you any inappropriate communications they receive or find about themselves posted somewhere else. Setting standards for your expectations on how your kids communicate to others will help prevent your kids from becoming cyberbullies.
3. Frequently “Google” your kids’ names, their email addresses, their screen names, etc.Performing this type of search will allow you to see what, if anything, is floating out in cyberspace about your kids. Also, be sure to search under “Groups” and “Images” on the Google search page. These are other types of searches that might turn up electronic information about your kids. When you search, be sure to use quotation marks before and after your child’s name, as in “John Doe” – otherwise you’ll get results back on every website that has John or Doe in it.
4. If your child receives or finds a negative message about him or her once, don’t overreact. Any kid can become the object of a one-time prank. Keep your eye on the situation, but don’t overreact unless the message threatens physical harm.
5. If your child becomes the target of repeated cyberbullying:
- Be sure to talk with your children. See if they know or can guess who is responsible for the cyberbullying. Check with them to see how they are emotionally handling the abuse. Give support and provide help whenever needed. Reinforce your expectation that they are not to retaliate by becoming cyberbullies themselves.
- If you are able to identify the cyberbully, handle the situation directly involving the parents of the bully. Confronting the offender directly and involving the parents of the offender ought to be the first step in resolving the issue. Too often, this step is overlooked.
- If you are unable to identify the cyberbully, block the messages through your email settings, instant message settings, social networking website or Internet Service Provider, if possible. If the negative messages are posted to a blog or website, report the abuse to the website’s management. For example, if an inappropriate message was posted on Facebook, contact Facebook directly about the content of the message and where the message appears.
- Notify school officials. School officials are typically not able to address a cyberbullying situation that happens off campus. Still, they generally are familiar in dealing with bullying that happens on campus. Notification will alert them to keep an eye out for the situation on campus, and it’s possible that they have insights in how to help your specific situation, particularly if they are currently dealing with the person or persons who are bullying or cyberbullying your child.
- If messages include physical threats, notify local law enforcement authorities. Don’t delay. Print out a copy of the threatening material and take it with you to give to the authorities.
- When in doubt, report it! If you don’t know what to do if your child is being cyberbullied, report it! Whether you report to the Internet Service Provider, website management, school authorities, or the police, most people will help point you in the right direction, if they themselves aren’t prepared or able to help you directly. What is likely is that if cyberbullying is not addressed, the abuse will continue, and this greatly raises the risk of your child reacting inappropriately.
In the end, like so many other issues of parenting, you set the pace when it comes to reacting to cyberbullies. Dealing with the issue calmly, intentionally and in a God-honoring way sets an important example for your child!
Jim Burns, Ph.D.
Jim Burns, Ph.D., is President of HomeWord and host of HomeWord’s daily radio broadcasts. Each weekday in cities across America, over a million people hear Jim through his radio ministry to families. His passion is communicating to adults and young people practical truths to help them live out their Christian lives. Jim is a three time Gold Medallion Award winning author and has written books for parents, youth workers, and students. His recent books include Confident Parenting, Teaching Your Children Healthy Sexuality, and The 10 Building Blocks for a Happy Family. He speaks in-person to thousands of people each year around the world with a message of hope for families. Jim and his wife, Cathy, and their daughters Christy, Rebecca, and Heidi, live in Southern California.