It's a fact of life in the 21st century that kids are connected to each other 24/7. A generation ago, young people who were bullied in school could count on hours spent at home as a respite from ridicule. Today, kids are ever-connected through texting, instant messaging and social media sites; sadly, there is little rest for the bully-weary.
While many parents consider themselves digital immigrants in their child's native cyber-lands, even a tech novice can help a young person navigate their way safely through the choppy waters of online aggression. What follows are 10 guidelines that parents, caregivers and other concerned adults can offer to the young people they care about for effectively dealing with cyberbullying:
1. Reach out to a trustworthy adult
Too often, young people get the message that they should be strong enough to handle bullying on their own. Help kids understand that reaching out to trustworthy adults is, in itself, an act of tremendous strength and courage. Make sure your child knows that he never has to "go it alone." Rather, adults can do a lot to make cyberbullying situations better -- but they can't do anything if they do not know about them, so kids must find the courage to reach out and speak up.
A young person's instinct in a cyberbullying incident may be to retaliate -- to return the insults, post equally lewd photos or spread vengeful rumors. Teach them never to give in to this temptation. Two wrongs don't make a right, but revenge can lead to three bad outcomes:
- It ups the ante on aggression. The person who "started" it will likely escalate their cruelty even farther.
- It creates equal culpability in the eyes of adults. Accountability is not based on "who started it?" but rather, who did the right thing to bring the situation to an end?
- It can potentially land both kids in legal jeopardy, since cyberbullying can be a criminal offense.
3. Log Off and Block Harassers
It is important to teach young people that it is OK to walk away from toxic friendships. A first line of defense in stopping cyberbullying is to empower kids to end a digital conversation the minute it begins to get nasty. Kids should know how to log off of an account temporarily and in cases of repeated harrassment, block aggressors altogether.
4. Use Privacy Settings
Give your child the empowering message that she is in charge of how she is treated by others. Encourage her to use privacy settings to set boundaries on cruelty by her peers.
5. Take Screen Shots
As the saying goes, what happens on the Internet stays on the Internet. Never does this truism come in more handy than when young people know to take screen shots of incidents of cyberbullying, including offensive emails, texts, Facebook posts, Tweets, photos, videos, phone numbers and so forth. This kind of solid evidence, when shared with adults, can go a long way in bringing cyberbullying to a screeching halt.
6. Step In to Stop It
Even if your child is not the originator of a cruel online message, when he forwards it, "Likes" it, or even sees it without doing something to stop it, he becomes part of the problem. Teach kids to never forward, share or passively condone cyberbullying activities.
7. Report It
Most social networking websites have easy, anonymous reporting systems. Teach kids that anytime they learn that cyberbullying is taking place, they should report it right away. The site will take down the content and your child can feel good knowing that he took decisive action to help a victim of cyberbullying without putting a huge target on his own back. For most social networking sites, the general reporting address is: firstname.lastname@example.org
Teach kids that before they post any message online, they should bear in mind one thing: There is a human being on the receiving end of their keystrokes. Too often, technology numbs kids to the reality that their words can cause real pain and lasting harm to others.
9. Remember: You are Not to Blame
If your child is on the receiving end of cyberbullying, remind him that it is not his fault and that he does not deserve to be treated this way. Bullying has everything to do with the character of the aggressor and nothing to do with your child. This is a critical reminder for kids.
10. Be a Friend
If your child knows someone on the receiving end of cyberbullying, encourage her to reach out to that person. When young people are there for each others as friends, they create strength in numbers and can make a huge difference in turning the tide away from cruelty and toward kindness.
Signe Whitson, LSW is a school counselor, national educator on bullying, and author of two books on stopping bullying, including 8 Keys to End Bullying: Strategies for Parents & Schools (coming Spring 2014) and Friendship & Other Weapons: Group Activities to Help Young Girls Cope with Bullying. For more information or workshop inquiries, please visit www.signewhitson.com