How To Keep Our Kids Safe From Online Bullying (Cyberbullying)
The recent spike in coronavirus numbers has many Sydney parents worried that kids will not be returning to school at any point. If that happens, our kids could be studying from home for the rest of the year.
One of the most important things every parent must protect their child from while they are home schooling is cyberbullying. Bullying is the misuse of power in a relationship to deliberately cause physical and/or psychological harm to another.
This week, we are discussing online bullying. We look at the signs so you can pinpoint a potential problem and take action to mitigate it. We also discuss strategies you can teach your child to prevent bullying. Finally, we list some resources on cyberbullying that every parent must have on hand.
What Is Cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying is bullying online. Bullies use social media platforms, texts and emails to send hurtful messages, pictures or comments. It can be verbal, social or a threat of physical harm.
Cyberbullying is relentless because it has the potential to reach many people in a short space of time. Images released online can remain on the internet indefinitely if it is shared by many people and saved into different places. Once released these images and content can be easily searched on a web browser like Google. The person who is bullied online finds it hard to escape it if they use technology regularly.
According to Kidshelpline.com.au, cyberbullying can involve one or a combination of the following:
Sending or sharing nasty, hurtful messages about someone
Posting or sharing embarrassing images or videos of others
Spreading gossips and lies on social media, texts or emails
Setting up fake profiles online
Spreading rumours online
Playing horrible online pranks on a person
Encouraging others to spread hurtful lies about a person
Excluding a person from a social group
Cyberstalking (repeated harassment and threatening messages)
1 in 4 Australian students have experienced some form of bullying so bullying is not unique. But only 55% of kids will seek help from their parents; 28% ask help from friends and 38% block the offending account.
There are many reasons why people bully others including jealousy, anger, desire to be liked or to fit in with peer groups, control, being bullied themselves or not knowing that what they are doing to others is wrong. Whatever the reason, bullying is unacceptable.
Effects of cyberbullying
Parents must understand that bullying is NOT a normal part of growing up. Bullying can reduce your child’s participation, learning and enjoyment of school. Online bullying can lead to social, psychological and educational issues.
Studies have shown that kids who were bullied in school can suffer long term negative impacts that can include physical health complaints, mental illness (like anxiety and depression) and social isolation.
A person who is bullied can experience one or a combination of the following:
Concentration and focus issues
Uncharacteristic tearful episodes
Loss of control
Trouble at school (e.g. homework, truancy and so forth)
Kids are more vulnerable because of coronavirus lockdown
Our kids are spending more time studying online because of social distancing restrictions. The additional time they spent online can make them more vulnerable to cyberbullying.
Parents who are working remotely from home may not have the time to supervise every online activity that their kid is participating in. Also, our kids are more likely to be pressured to conform to peer pressure online than they are offline. An online environment can easily escalate peer group issues because of the lack of face-to-face opportunities to resolve issues. Furthermore, the relative disinhibition and anonymity of online mediums pose a temptation for some kids to behave in ways that they are normally disinclined to do in real life.
While we cannot remove social media interactions from our kids, we can take steps to be extra-vigilant about their use of these platforms.
How to protect your kid from cyberbullying?
Here are some practical steps parents can take to prevent cyberbullying:
1. Stay calm
It’s a shock to find out that your child is being bullied. The most important thing you must do if you make this horrible discovery is to stay calm and positive. Don’t let your anger dictate your actions. Calm down. Assess the situation and decide what actions to take to stop the bullying. Your strength will be your best weapon to help your child.
2. Talk with the school
Parents do not need their kids’ permission to talk to the school about bullying. Of course, your child will be fearful about repercussions, but the situation will only worsen if you do not take any action.
If you suspect your child’s health or safety is at risk, you must contact the school immediately. A consistent and co-operative approach to address the problem is the best way to stop your child from being bullied. Australian schools have a systematic approach to stop bullying in schools. The principal and class teacher will work closely with you to stop it.
3. Talk to your child
Encourage your child to talk about what happened. When talking to your child about cyberbullying here are some things to remember:
Tell them that it is not their fault
Explain to them that bullying in any form is unacceptable
Tell them it is okay to report bullying
Do not become angry with them
Do not become upset
Talk calmly and rationally
Ask them what they would like to do next and what they would like you to do
Hug them and tell them you love them
Strategies to teach your kids to stop cyberbullying
If they are old enough to deal with the situation themselves, guide them with strategies that they can adopt. Always follow up with them to see if the situation has improved. Here are some strategies to teach your child:
Tell them bullying is unacceptable
Block and report the bully
Ignore the bully
Report the post or image
Make a report to eSafety if the image is not removed
Keep evidence (for example screenshots)
Go offline for a while so the tension can dissipate
Tell a parent or a teacher at school
Act unimpressed or unaffected by the situation
Say ‘NO’ firmly
Put in security filters
Don’t share information with everyone
Some responses can have a negative impact and make the bullying worse. Don’t give the bully the satisfaction. It is important to tell your kids what these are:
Fighting back – getting into an online ‘war of words’ with the bully will only make the situation worse
Bullying the bully only makes you a bully
Ignoring it won’t make it go away
Reacting to the bullying gives the bully more control
Being silent makes the bully more powerful
4. Stay connected
Online communication is good, but it is also important that our kids continue to have face-to-face interactions with their friends and family. Parents can assist by coordinating Zoom meetups with friends and grandparents, so our kids have a broader range of interaction than just social media.
5. Maintain healthy activities
Encouraging our kids to stay active and healthy is important during COVID-19 lockdown. If they are feeling sad or anxious, small activities like riding their bike or a kicking a ball in the park can make a big difference to their mental state. ncourage them to find activities they enjoy especially the activities that involve some physical exercise and fresh air.
It is also important that we maintain good eating habits at home by moderating the types of snack they can have or the meals we prepare for the family. A balanced diet of vegetables, fruit, grains and plenty of water will help our kids sleep better, improve their energy and focus better on their studies.
6. Discuss cybersecurity
Now is the best time to have a positive discussion with the kids about cybersecurity. Look at sites and apps with them and teach them how to manage privacy and security settings on each of the online platforms they use. Families should decide together what is safe and appropriate to share online and make family agreements that include positive statements about how each family member will use technology safely.
Worried about ZOOM and Tik Tok? These suggestions may help:
7. Resources for parents
Here are some resources to help parents cope with bullying:
Government website on bullying and how to prevent it.
Government website to report cyberbullying.
247 Online counselling services to help young Australian aged 5 to 25 years old.
Online mental health website to help children deal with loneliness or withdrawal. The website has a parent chat group if you need to connect with other parents or if your child wants to connect with others.
Online mental health website to help kids develop mental resilience and positive behaviours
We can’t keep our kids away from social media platforms, but we can do a lot to keep them safe from being bullied online. Let’s stop bullying and keep our kids safe.
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