Thanks to the prevalence of social media and smartphones, bullies are no longer confined to the school playground. Emotional bullying can take place 24 hours a day, 7 days a week via social media sites, instant messaging services, and email. Over half (52 percent) of young people report being cyber bullied and 25 percent of teenagers report that they have experienced repeated bullying via their cell phone or on the Internet, according to NoBullying.com, an anti-bullying movement. Worse, more than half of young people who have been bullied say they never confided in their parents. Given the high rate of cyber bullying, it’s natural for parents to worry that their own children could be victims, or even part of the group that’s doing the bullying.
In the past, physical signs like bruises and torn clothing were obvious red flags that a child had been bullied on the playground. Now, parents, teachers and authority figures must learn how to identify the warning signs of cyber bullying and take actionable steps to stop bullying. Talking to your child about cyber bullying is not an easy conversation. Here are some helpful tips on how to get started:
- Start early.
Don’t wait until your child is a cyber bullying victim to get involved. Take an active interest in your child’s friends and online activities. Once they are old enough to have their own phone, email and chat accounts, the National Crime Prevention Council advises regularly going over their chat lists. Ask who each person is and how your child knows him or her. If you don’t recognize or know someone on the list, ask if your child knows him or her in real life.
- Get familiar with online lingo, acronyms and texting slang.
Sure, you may recognize texting acronyms like “BRB” or “LOL” from your own chats, but do you know “KPC” or “POS”? (Those stand for “keeping parents clueless” and “parents over shoulder", by the way) It’s important to be familiar with these phrases so if you see something out of place, you can immediately take action.
- Talk to your child about cyber bullying.
Tell your child not to respond if someone sends him or her a mean or threatening message. Instead, save the message or print it out and show it to a parent. Keeping records of bullying messages is important should the cyber bullying escalate and school administrators or even the police need to get involved. Remind kids that if they are angry or upset, it's better to put down the phone and stop texting. Once something is said, even in anger, they can't take it back.
- Reassure you kids that they won’t be punished for speaking up.
Remind your son or daughter that it is not their fault if they are bullied. Many stay silent for fear they will lose computer or smartphone privileges, reports the National Crime Prevention Council. Remind them that you would never blame them or take away these privileges for telling adults that they are being cyber bullied.
- Keep your child safe.
Talk to your children about the importance of online privacy. Remind them that anything they share via text, chat or on a social media site will live on forever. This includes messages that “disappear” from a chat service like Snapchat after a fixed period of time. It’s always possible for someone to take a screenshot or record what’s been shared. If your child is being harassed via text or chat, tell them to block the bully’s account and flag their behavior with the chat service.