Living in our wired world, you've no doubt heard of cyberbullying but you may not know as much about it. If you have a child or teen who goes online or has a mobile device capable of receiving or sending texts, they are at risk of being victimized. To keep your kids safe, start asking yourself the tough questions now:
What should you do if your child is being cyberbullied?
How can you tell if they’re being victimized?
At what age should you discuss internet safety?
How can we make our family computer safer for our kids?
Ryan Moreau, internet safety expert, answers these questions for us and provides tips on making your family computer safer for your kids.
Q: What steps should I take if my child is being cyberbullied?
A: There are some easy steps you can follow if your child is being cyberbullied. Let them know to come to you first, and then assess the level of severity and type of bully. If the cyberbullying is at a high level of severity—threatening physical harm to your child, their family and friends, etc.—it may be appropriate to contact the local police department, especially if the cyberbully is anonymous. If you or your child knows the cyberbully, it would appropriate to contact school administration and have them handle approaching the bully’s parents. Engaging with the cyberbully directly can escalate the situation, so make sure your child does not respond to or delete messages from a cyberbully. This evidence can be kept as a record of the malicious behavior, while disengaging helps prevent additional negative material from surfacing. Cyberbullying is easier to prevent than to fix, so change any account information and have them turn off the computer—By walking away, they become less accessible to bullying and harassment, and are affected less by the situation. Assure them that life goes on without a Facebook profile!
Q: How can I tell if my child is a victim of cyberbullying?
A: The most important things you can ask yourself or your child are: (1) is the behavior directed at your child specifically, and (2) is it repetitive behavior or a one-time occurrence? These two questions can also help you better define what counts as cyberbullying. Sometimes people act differently on the Internet because they feel it gives them the cover of anonymity. If this is how they act to everyone, they may be simply expressing themselves in a bad way; but if it is only towards your child, then they may be a victim of cyberbullying.
When checking into a potential cyberbullying situation, consider whether or not the behaviors are being repeated. One mean message could be a misunderstanding or misinterpretation, or even unintentional. However, if you find they keep contacting your child with the behavior over and over, it's likely an attempt to be a bully.
Q: What's a good age for me to start educating and talking to my kids about internet safety?
A: It is never too soon for you to begin educating your children about Internet safety. As soon as a child begins using the computer, it's a good time for you to begin discussions about online activity. Before age 10, you should be a guide and a direct part of their Internet use. After age 10, you should be engaging in a regular dialogue with your kids about their online usage, habits and whereabouts. This open dialogue is the key to ensure your kids will speak to you about any potential or future issues, such as cyberbullying, they come across online.
Q: How can we make our family computer safer for our kids?
A: There a few things you can do as parents to make sure your family computer is safe for your kids to use on a regular basis. First, keep the computer in a public space of the home. A kitchen, family room, or any high-traffic area will allow you to see what kind of activity is taking place on the computer. Next, establish a set of guidelines for your kids to follow. This allows you the opportunity to check in regularly on how your children are following or not following the guidelines, while also opening the discussion for what they're doing and seeing online. Lastly, ensure that all security and safety settings are enabled on the programs your kids use. Ask them to explain their privacy settings on social media channels—and the importance of using these settings.
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Ryan Moreau is an Internet safety expert with Kiwi Commons - a site dedicated to providing information and resources on Internet Safety. He specializes in educating parents and teens about cyberbullying, digital footprinting and online safety.