“Stick and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”
In the age of digital technology, this saying simply isn’t true. People are spending more time online than ever before – including children and youth – and cyberbullying has been on the rise. Due to the pandemic, kids across the country have been participating in virtual school and spending more time on the internet during their spare time. As a result, this has increased their exposure to online abuse, threats and harassment.
Bullying in all its forms can have short- and long-term effects on the mental health and well-being of children and youth. When it comes to cyberbullying, parents and kids need to be equipped to stay safe online. Read the tips below to learn more.
Make devices visible
Parents can easily miss the signs of cyberbullying when their child’s devices are used and stored out of sight. When kids are using any electronic device that connects to the internet, ask them to stay in a common area of your home. Designating a primary work area is especially important when kids are signed on to virtual school.
If your children are young, it’s best for someone to sit near them as they work. That doesn’t mean that you have to constantly look over their shoulders – you don’t want to take away their sense of independence. But you can keep close enough to watch that they’re safely navigating online sites.
When your kids are working, you can also do regular check-ins. Do they seem upset or frustrated when looking at the screen? While this could be caused by stress related to their schoolwork, it’s always best to make sure.
Use parental controls
Manage the devices your children are using to install parental controls. For example, you can enable password protection settings and create a list of blocked sites on your devices. Setting up these controls is extremely crucial for young children.
You can also use timers for internet usage. If your children are using their devices for entertainment, set a timeframe for how long they are allowed to be online before going on to the next activity.
When establishing these controls, communication with your children is key. Together, you can create appropriate online and social media guidelines to display in your home. These will act as a reminder to be safe while they explore the internet.
Make room for conversations
It’s important to take time to talk with your children about internet safety and the risk of cyberbullying. Remind them that it’s never safe to provide personal information to friends or strangers on the internet. If possible, it’s best to avoid using their full name in their social media usernames.
With increased social isolation due to the pandemic, kids may want to establish more friendships online. Remind children to never accept messages or friend requests from people they don’t know.
Children and youth may also need some practical support. If your child encounters bullying or harassment, show them how to easily unfollow or block individuals from sites. You can also show them how to report users on different platforms.
When speaking with your kids, don’t forget to explain the difference between appropriate and inappropriate conversations online. This is often the first line of defence when it comes to preventing and avoiding cyberbullying.
Look for signs of cyberbullying
Children experiencing cyberbullying may be moody or angry after using their phones or laptops. Keep an eye out for negative emotions as they use the internet.
If children seem to be hiding something from you as they use their phone or computer, it may be related to a case of cyberbullying. Identify this behaviour and let your child know that you want to offer your support.
There are a number of potential signs of cyberbullying to look out for. If you notice any of these signs, don’t hesitate to talk to your child about this.
Make yourself available
Create an open environment at home encouraging your child to speak to you when they’re upset. It’s important to have a non-judgmental, trusting relationship.
When dealing with an internet bully, many children are ashamed to speak up. They might feel as if they did something wrong to land them in their situation.
Let your child know if someone is ever mean to them online, they should come and talk to you about it. You can help them take proper action against the bully.
Having a trusting relationship with your child will also encourage them to talk to you about their online friends. If something doesn’t seem right about one of the friends they’ve told you about, ask more questions. You can also provide helpful resources about bullying from trusted sources.
Take necessary action
If your child reveals that they have been the victim of an online bully, you will need to take necessary action.
Start by asking to see all messages or interactions between your child and the bully. Reassure your child that looking at the messages is not meant to infringe on their privacy. Your main intent is to help them to address the cyberbullying. If the posts contain any sexual information or nude photos, immediately alert the police.
Does your child know the bully from school or work? If so, report the incident to the school administration or workplace manager. It’s likely that other students are also being harassed or have seen online interactions.
Encourage time away from devices
Increased time on digital devices can result in heightened emotions of stress, fatigue, and isolation. These negative emotions can make children and youth more vulnerable to the effects of cyberbullying.
To reduce online exposure, encourage your children to explore hobbies that don’t require the use of technology. Baking, painting or outdoor sports in the backyard are all safe activities they can do throughout the pandemic.
As your kids explore different hobbies, be excited alongside them. Ask them to show you different recipes they’ve learned or art pieces they’re working on.
Consider investing time into family activities to engage everyone in the home. Take time to go on family walks, explore new parks in town, or watch movies at home together.
These options will give children and youth much-needed offline time, and they’ll also help you to grow closer as a family.
Help keep kids safe online
Parents aren’t always able to stop cyberbullying, but there are many things to do to help keep your kids safe online.
Designate a common area in the home for device usage, and install all necessary parental controls. Encourage your children to take precautions online with their personal information and to talk to you if they ever feel threatened. If they encounter a bully online, take any necessary action to address the situation.
Children First Canada is working to make Canada a safe and healthy place for kids to grow up. Check out the rest of our site to learn more about our work.