Judy French is writing on behalf of PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center.
For most parents, the possibility of harm to their children while using technology is a serious concern. News reports underscore the possibility of tragic outcomes for youth involved in cyberbullying or a misuse of technology. The dangers of connecting children to the world via phones, computers and over social media, apps, gaming, and messaging causes a lot of anxiety and fear.
So why aren’t we talking to our kids more often about cyber-safety?
Many parents say that they don’t know enough about technology to talk about it; others say that their kids know more than they do about technology, so why attempt the conversation? Whatever the reason, there is evidence that parental involvement in educating and guiding children to a safe and ethical use of technology helps kids navigate cyber-world in a healthier way.
Adults should discuss online conduct and behavior, as well as cyberbullying, as soon as children and teens begin using technology. Cyberbullying can begin as soon as youth access technology that allows them to connect with others and others to connect with them.
Remember, one of the goals of any conversation between parents and youth about technology or cyberbullying is to show support for what they are experiencing and to ensure that conversations will continue as they mature. Many youth worry that they will lose access to technology if they tell an adult about cyberbullying or anything negative they’ve seen or experienced. Let them know the goal is not to take away their technology but to keep them safe while using it.
Here are some ideas for engaging youth to be in conversation with you about cyber-safety:
1. Take an interest in the technology they use and ask them about it. Starting a conversation about positive and fun uses of technology can be a good way into a deeper discussion. Have them teach you about the apps and games they like.
2. Help your child learn to recognize what cyberbullying looks like and define it for them. It is often difficult for youth to understand negative behaviors that are directed toward them online. Encourage them to talk about what they experience while online: the good, the bad, and the things they don’t understand. Keeping the lines of communication open will encourage youth to find you when problems occur.
3. Talk about what information to share online. Start by discussing what is and isn’t appropriate information to share online to ensure their safety and security. Talk about this in the same way you would talk with youth about being safe at school, at the neighborhood park, or while playing sports or participating in any other group activity. Explain that if something hurtful is shared online (via words, images, videos, etc.), it may be cyberbullying, and it’s important that you know about it. Reassure them that you won’t respond by removing access to their accounts, and that together you will handle the situation.
4. Create your cyber-safety agreement together. Create a code of conduct or cyber-safety agreement that you both support. This can include guidelines for times youth are allowed to be online, which sites they will be allowed to use, and if you will monitor their accounts. The code of conduct can also describe points such as “We will treat others online with the same kindness that we do in person.”
5. Revisit the cyberbullying and online behavior discussion often as youth mature, not just when problems arise. Your children change as they grow and learn about the wider world. Don’t be afraid to do a “reset” of your cyber-safety agreement to address what’s currently happening in their lives. Again, remember that the goal is to help them navigate their connections to the world safely, whether that’s for in-person issues or online.
This Wednesday, October 18th is Unity Day! Wear orange to draw awareness and join the fight to end bullying of all kinds, including cyberbullying. More information is available here.