Cyberbullying is an ominous word, and for good reason. Unlike traditional, schoolyard bullying, cyberbullying follows kids home, and can haunt them 24/7. It can be devastating for entire families.
Parents should be aware that if their kids are online, cyberbullying is very likely a part of their lives: according to a 2014 McAfee Study, 87% of teens have witnessed bullying online. Which means that 100% could use a dose of education on how to prepare for, respond to, and rise above cyberbullying.
Like many monsters, cyberbullying is best faced head on. By guiding your children through the scary world of cyberbullying, you can increase the chances that your child will respond in a compassionate and courageous way, should they be targeted by or witness to a cyberbully. Consider this series your cheat sheet to create some teachable moments with your child. You can give you child the tools to diffuse a cyberbullying situation before anyone gets hurt.
Part 1: Preparing for Cyberbullying
In this first part of a three part series, we will look at how to prepare your kids for the all but inevitable encounter with a cyberbully, either as witness or target. By having a conversation with your child, and checking in regularly on these topics, you can help mitigate the hurt caused by cyberbullying by helping your child know what to do and to whom to turn.
Knowing When to Act
The first step to responding to cyberbullying is making sure that your child recognizes it when it happens. If your child is a target of bullying, he likely knows by the sick, sinking feeling in his stomach, or the pain, shame or humiliation the bully causes him to feel. But your child needs to be taught to recognize cyberbullying when it happens to another child as well – bystanders with the courage to act are often the best way to stop bullies in their tracks. Talk to your child about the difference between teasing and taunting, and laughing with someone vs. at someone else’s expense. You can also talk to your child about “standing in someone else’s shoes.” We all have an inherent sense of empathy – help your child learn how to tap into this skill so that he is able to recognize when another child needs his help.
Establishing “Trusted Adults” in Your Child’s Life
Often, adult involvement is required in order to stamp out a situation of cyberbullying. But if a child turns to an adult who does not take the situation seriously, or who may overreact, there is a good chance the situation will worsen, as the targeted child may develop feelings of hopelessness or regret. This is why it is important to identify responsible adults that you and your child trust to do the right thing in response to cyberbullying. A trusted adult is someone to whom your child can turn when she sees something troubling. Trusted adults will listen with kindness, help your child to take positive steps on her own, and take action themselves when necessary. Seeing mean behavior online can be overwhelming and upsetting, as a target or a witness. Help your child form a plan of to whom she can turn for help.
Practice Makes Perfect
Now that your child can identify cyberbullying and has established trusted adults, it is smart to run through a few scenarios, especially with younger children, to help him build his confidence when it comes to stopping a cyberbully. This isn’t an easy to do, even for adults – so be patient and help your child learn. Come up with pretend scenarios of cyberbullying, and have your child practice being a target or a witness. Can your child recognize the cyberbullying when it starts? Can he find words to stand up for himself or for his peer? Does he remember adults to whom he can turn, and ways that he can ask those adults for help? With a little practice, you can help your child develop a habit of doing the right thing to stand up for himself or to help another at the first instance of cyberbullying – and therefore help a whole community avoid a lot of hurt.
By utilizing these tips, you can help your child be prepared to encounter cyberbullying before it starts.
Check back soon for the next article in this series on helping your kids to face down cyberbullying: Part 2: Responding to Cyberbullying.