Online bullying is, unfortunately, a very common problem. The i-SAFE Foundation notes that over 50% of young people have been bullied online. About 33% of young people have actually been threatened via the internet or mobile phone device while half of all bullying victims are bullied on an ongoing basis.
Online bullying has a severely detrimental impact on a child’s emotional and even physical well being. Children who are regularly bullied are prone to low self-esteem, do poorly in school, have problems with depression and in serious cases may even attempt to commit suicide. Thankfully, there are many things that parents can do to deal with online bullying and help their children learn how to deal with this problem and the issues that may arise as a result.
One of the most important things that parents can do is cultivate trust. Most young people do not tell their parents that they are having problems with online bullying and instead try to come up with bullying solutions on their own. However, online bullying is not usually something that a child or teen can deal with by themselves.
Parents must make time on a regular basis to talk to their teens and young people and, most importantly, listen to what the children and teens have to say. Children and teens should feel confident telling their parents anything, knowing that parents will not blow up, scold or automatically provide a long lecture on proper behaviour.
Parents can make it easy for their teens to say what is on their hearts and mind by asking the right questions. Given the high bullying statistics, parents should not hesitate to ask children directly if they have been bullied online or know of someone who has. Parents should also ask young people what they think of online bullying and what they feel should be done about it. Getting to know a young person’s feelings and opinions on the subject will enable a parent to provide solutions and advice.
Providing Moral Education
Statistics show that many young people who are bullied online go on to bully others. Young people must be taught from a young age that bullying is wrong. While teachers can and should provide moral education at school, it is the parent’s responsibility to ensure that their children have a strong moral foundation.
To start with, children should be taught from an early age how to interact well with others. They should learn how to make friends and work well with peers, adults and even younger children. Children must also be taught how to solve arguments without resorting to physical or verbal abuse. Teaching children to forgive a friend or playmate who has hurt them is also important, as many young people resort to bullying as a way to get revenge.
Children who have been given a strong moral foundation from a young age are less likely to resort to bullying than those who have not had a good moral education.
The Importance of Good Self Esteem
Good self-esteem can solve a lot of bullying problems. A young person should know beyond any shadow of a doubt that he or she is a unique, worthwhile person who has a lot to offer. Young people who have a strong sense of personal self-worth do not need to bully others in order to boost their personal self-esteem.
Self-esteem can also help young people deal with any online bullying that they may face via the internet or mobile phone. A young person who has a healthy sense of self-esteem will know that online taunts, name calling or ugly pictures do not change his or her self worth. Such young people will be less prone to eating disorders, depression and other serious problems that commonly arise as a result of cyberbullying.
Practical Internet Safety Tips
Thanks to the widespread proliferation of iPads, iPods and smartphones, it is becoming harder for parents to monitor a young person’s internet usage. In times past, all a parent had to do was put the home computer in a public area such as the living room or home office.
The parents could then see what their child was doing and saying online and effectively prevent misconduct. However, this is no longer the case as a young person can easily get online at any time of the day or night using one of the above-mentioned devices. Furthermore, a lot of bullying occurs via mobile phone, so even young people who do not have an iPhone or smartphone can engage in or become victims of online bullying.
However, there are some things that a parent can do to protect a child and reduce the odds of him or her becoming a victim of online bullying. To start with, a parent should choose a young person’s school carefully. The school or high school a young person goes to has a big bearing on what sorts of friends the young person makes.
Parents who are unhappy with a young person’s friends can and should forbid these friends from calling or coming over. Young people should be taught to make friends who build their self-esteem instead of actively tearing it down.
Facebook and other social media sites officially state that a person must be at least 13 years old in order to open an account. Naturally, many young people and even parents ignore these guidelines, but they are there for a good reason and should be adhered to. The older a teenager is when he or she opens a Facebook account, the more training and maturity he or she will have to deal with issues such as online bullying.
Maintaining Internet Privacy
The term “internet privacy” is in fact a bit of an oxymoron. There really is no such thing; anything that a young person posts online is not private and can often be accessed by unauthorized third parties. However, there are measures that a teen and his or her parents can take to ensure that comments, photos and videos posted by a young person stay out of the public eye.
Facebook settings should be adjusted so that only authorized individuals can see one’s full page and photo albums. Teens should be taught to reject friend requests from those that they do not personally know. Teens who have a blog can adjust their blog settings so that the blog is not scanned by search engines. Photos posted on the blog should be watermarked so that they cannot be downloaded and misused by those who do happen to stumble on the blog.
What Not to Post
Parents should not hesitate to explain in detail the damage that a young person can do to him or herself by posting the wrong things online. Posting nude or semi-nude photos, for instance, is always a bad idea. Such photos are often downloaded and circulated by cyber bullies, who then make comments about a person’s weight, looks and sex appeal (or the lack of it).
Posting such photos of others should also be forbidden, as it exposes others to the same dangers outlined above. Furthermore, sharing nude or semi-nude photos of minors, even with their consent, can result in criminal charges that land one a lifelong placement on the sex offender’s registrar, even if the young person who shared or emailed the photos is underage.
Comments that condone illegal activities should also be avoided. Young people should be taught to never joke about matters such as terrorism, murder, illicit sex, getting drunk, doing drugs, etc. Even if a young person has not committed a crime, these comments can be misconstrued and land a young person in a lot of serious trouble.
Just recently, a young adult was arrested for posting a video of himself pretending to drink and drive. While his friends may have had a good laugh at the flick, local law enforcement officials were far from amused. To make matters worse, it is impossible for the individual in question to prove that the video was in fact a joke and he is now being charged with driving while under the influence.
Young people should also avoid posting information that they would not want to share with a future employer or university professor. Many educational institutions and employers now require that young person divulge their Facebook passwords in order to get a good job or gain placement at a leading college or university. Given the fact that it is difficult if not impossible to completely delete anything posted on Facebook or other similar sites, young people should avoid putting up photos or comments that would damage their future educational and career prospects.
What to do When Bullying Occurs
Bullying solution involves not only preventing the problem from occurring but also dealing with it when it arises. As was noted above, parents should develop a close relationship with their children so that children will feel comfortable telling parents if and when they have problems with bullying. At the same time, parents should keep a close eye on their children’s behaviour in and out of school. If a child suddenly starts doing poorly at school and is noticeably depressed or anxious, then parents should take action, find the source of the problem and deal with it.
One of the most effective ways to deal with online bullying is to block the person or people who are sending the unwanted messages. Facebook, along with all mobile phone service providers, allow users to block people. Most young people in fact prefer this route to other options outlined below.
If bullying is serious or aggressive in nature, then report it. Threats of physical violence are not legal and neither is the distribution of a young person’s nude or semi-nude photograph, even if the young person unwisely sent it to a boyfriend, girlfriend or some other individual. Such incidents of cyberbullying can be reported to law enforcement officials who can then track the records to find out who is responsible (although a young person may in fact know who the culprit is already). Some schools have protocols in place for responding to cyberbullying and a parent can, with a young person’s permission, report the incident to the appropriate school authority.
On the other hand, there may be instances when a parent discovers that his or her child is engaged in bullying others online. This must also be dealt with. When a young person first acquires a cell phone and/or computer, he or she should understand clearly that these items can be confiscated by parents if used in an inappropriate manner. Cell phones, Pads and other devices are not “rights” and can be taken away if a young person engages in any form of cyberbullying. If parents have not explained this clearly to their children, then they should do so as soon as possible.
Parents may also need to consider getting counselling for a young person who is engaged in cyberbullying. While some young people simply have a malicious streak, many young people become online bullies as a way of dealing with anger issues or the pain of having been bullied themselves. A professional counsellor can help a young person work through the core issues that are causing him or her to bully others online and learn better ways to deal with his or her behaviour.
Learning how to deal with online bullying issues starts even before a child gets a cell phone or personal computer. Children should be taught from an early age how to respect the rights of others. They should also understand their personal self worth cannot be changed by anything that a bully may say or do.
Once children get a computer or cell phone, they should be taught how to use these devices wisely. They should know how to protect their privacy so that others cannot use the things they post against them. They should learn how to choose their friends wisely so that they are not pressured into engaging in online (or offline) bullying.
If a parent finds out a child is being bullied online, the parent should take appropriate action by blocking the sender. In serious cases, law enforcement officials and school officials should be notified. Parents who know the bully’s family can also notify the bully’s parents. Young people who engage in online bullying should have their computers and mobile phones confiscated. Counselling should also be considered if a parent suspects that there may be underlying issues that need to be dealt with.
Parents may not be able to protect children as much as they like, but they can do a lot to teach children how to protect themselves. Young people who learn how to deal with online bullying issues will become better able to manage their professional and personal lives as adults. Teaching children how to manage difficult issues in their early years and find solutions to the problems they face will enable them to cope with other challenges they will face in the future.