My daughter came home crying from school one day. “Mom, we had a lecture from the principal today about Facebook. John said some really bad things to Steven on Facebook. Everyone started posting comments about it and making fun of Steven for it. Then Steven’s parents saw it and threw a fit at the principal.”
Apparently Steven’s parents were so irate with all of the comments from his classmates, that they decided to threaten a lawsuit on John’s family and to press charges.
This was the first example of cyberbullying that my daughter encountered at the young age of 13. There is an anti-bullying program at her school that now includes cyberbullying. Many parents of this class have now decided to begin monitoring the Facebook pages of their children (luckily something our family already had in place).
Cyberbullying? It is happening everywhere these days and unfortunately it is a real threat to our children. Social media has increased the avenues for bullies to attack young children. What can we as parents and adults do about it?
What the research shows
According to Pew Internet Research’s 2011 Cable in the Classroom series:
- 95% of social media-using teens who have witnessed cruel behavior on social networking sites say they have seen others ignoring mean behavior; 55% witness this frequently.
- 66% of teens who have witnessed online cruelty have also witnessed others joining; 21% say they have also joined in the harassment.
- 90% of social media-using teens who have witnessed online cruelty say they have ignored mean behavior on social media; 35% have done this frequently.
- 80% say they have defended the victim; 25% have done so frequently
- 79% have told the cyberbully to stop being mean and cruel; 20% have done so frequently
Another 2011 survey by the American Osteopathic Association shows that:
- 85% of parents of youth ages 13-17 report their child has a social networking account.
- 52% of parents are worried their child will be bullied on social networking sites.
- 1 in 6 parents know their child has been bullied on a social networking site.
Steps parents can take
As parents, we have an obligation to be aware of what our children are doing online. If 52% of parents are worried about their children being bullied through social media, then we have to educate ourselves about this problem and figure out how to solve it.
Here are some simple steps to help your family deal with cyberbullying:
#1. Create a family game-plan
Make sure everyone in the family understands email and social media courtesy i.e. don’t say anything negative to or about someone, don’t put any pictures or videos out there that could be hurtful, don’t threaten anyone, and don’t use foul language. Also discuss with your children what to do if they see cyberbullying taking place i.e. Don’t ignore it! Tell mom, dad, or a teacher immediately.
#2. Listen to your kids
As parents we need to make sure we are supportive of our children and really listen to the issues they are facing online. We should never say to them, “You’ll just have to deal with it” or “Just ignore Jane for saying those things, she’s just kidding”. With all of the publicity on social media sites, a small comment can quickly get out of hand and cause embarrassment or pain to your child.
#3. Think before you act
Teach your children to remain calm and rational when discussing any cyberbullying situations. Parents that overreact are more likely to have children that don’t feel comfortable reporting these problems.
#4. Involve the community
If other students from your child’s school are involved, then let a teacher or counselor know. The cyberbullying can easily become a real-life bullying situation if it isn’t nipped in the bud. Other kids could easily become involved.
Remember too that sometimes a word to the other child’s parents or the school principal may not be enough. Sometimes the police may need to be involved to put a stop to the unfortunate situation.
Cyberbullying is a real problem facing our children. Using social media sites to harass or intimidate others is becoming a common occurrence. By taking a few minutes to talk with our children and to establish some rules of engagement on social media, we can help our children before a potential problem or crisis takes place.
What rules or agreements have you put in place with your children in regard to safety on social networking sites?