Did you know that around the world, one-third of the people using the internet are children below the age of 18? In fact, latest research shows that children have begun using the internet at increasingly younger ages. Many parents are giving their toddlers their smartphones to keep them occupied while they feed them, change them or complete other chores and errands. Kids who haven’t even started Kindergarten yet are able to go to YouTube and watch their favourite cartoons.
While having access to the internet is a big advantage – it helps children get information, communicate with relatives and friends who live away, find ways to be more creative and improve their social and cognitive skills – it also has many disadvantages. It has raised questions about ‘digital dependency’ and ‘screen addiction’. Younger children and adolescents are more susceptible to getting brainwashed or being influenced by people on the internet. This puts them at risk of joining radical groups or cults or even playing games like the Blue Whale Challenge. Another worrying trend is the growing rate of cyberbullying and cyber harassment.
When bullying takes place through the medium of the internet, it is known as cyberbullying. It includes mean or obscene text messages or emails, rumours posted on social networking sites, confidential information being revealed, leaking of embarrassing pictures, unnecessary tagging, spamming, posting fake websites or profiles and may even involve threats of violence.
If your child is usually happy and well-adjusted but their behaviour suddenly changes, it could be due to bullying. There are certain signs that can indicate that your child is in distress:
- They are unwilling to attend school or classes
- They withdraw from social groups
- They appear to have low self-esteem
- There is a sudden change in their personality
- They tend to be secretive or withdrawn
- They lash out at seemingly small things
- They seem to be restless, irritable and anxious
- There’s been an abrupt change in their sleeping and eating patterns
- They complain about illnesses, aches and pains with no clear physical cause
Your children are vulnerable to many dangers of the world that they may be unaware of. As parents, it is crucial to be aware of these dangers, to identify if your child is involved in cyber-bullying, and to then take action to help them.
What you can do to help your child
There are a number of things that you can keep in mind when it comes to your child and their user of technology.
Stay up-to-date with technology: If your child is using a certain technology, try to understand at least the basics of how it works. This can help you track their use of the app, understand the possible risks associated with it, and come up with strategies for the same. The same goes for social media sites – Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Snapchat or Instagram.
Teach your kids how media impacts them: Help your children develop media literacy by discussing ideas and concepts that they see in their favourite books, shows, and movies. Using media and social media as examples are a great way to have tough conversations with your kid. Help them understand that not everything they see in the media is true. You can also discuss how there may be a lot of inappropriate language in popular media that is not okay to use. This includes sexist language, racist slurs, cuss words, or other forms of hate speech. With older children, it is important to have detailed conversations about the advantages and disadvantages of posting political opinions on social media, the immorality of posting other people’s art without their consent and other topics around the ethics of internet usage.
Set ground rules: Collaborate with your child on setting ground rules about internet usage. This includes scheduling time when they will not use the internet, respecting the minimum age limit on social media sites and communicating often with you about their internet use.
Explain the risks: No matter what age your child begins using the internet, it is important to help them understand the risks. Let your children know that you are always there to support and help them. Talk to them and help them understand the difference between tattling and reporting valid concerns. They should know that it is okay to bring their fears to you if they or someone they know are dealing with bullying or harassment.
Monitor their internet use: Keep a check on how your child is using the internet. This includes making sure they aren’t sharing personal information (especially with strangers), aren’t using profanity or inappropriate language and are mindful of the photos, videos and posts they are uploading. You can accompany younger children as they browse the web, but as your child grows older they may resist constantly being watched. For pre-teens and adolescents you can install apps which block unsafe or inappropriate sites but still give them the privacy to explore what they want.
Validate their concerns: If your child does complain about bullying to you, pay attention and validate their concerns. Look into the situation and see if your intervention is required. Shrugging off your child’s concern or asking them to toughen up will be unhelpful and discourage them from reaching out to you. Avoid blaming your child for the problem as they are likely already facing a lot of psychological trauma. Work together to find a solution that can help them.
What you can ask your child to do
In addition to the strategies mentioned for you, there are a number of things that you can ask your child to keep in mind – remember to work together as a team instead of laying these strategies down as strict and one-directional rules.
Have them make emergency plans: An emergency plan could involve actions that can be taken if your child experiences bullying, catfishing or harassment. Remind them not to reply to such messages, take screenshots to record proof, come to you with the problem, and if needed report the activity to authorities.
Ask them to fact-check news: If your kids are slightly older, they may be using social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube or Instagram to get access to news. Ensure that they understand not to spread any information until they have corroborated it and know that it is true. Teach them how to fact-check their news so that they are not misinformed.
Invite communication and conversation: Remind your children that you are trying to find a balance between respecting their privacy and ensuring their safety. This means that you are trusting them to communicate to you if they face any issues and that you are trying to create a strong bond with them.
Encourage them to spread internet safety strategies: Your children can also help their friends stay safe on the internet by telling them about these strategies. This can protect a lot more children from cyberbullying. As technology changes rapidly, your children may also start giving you advice on how to stay safe on the internet.
How you can address bullying behaviour
Nobody wants their child to become a victim of bullying or harassment. However, what do you do if the opposite happens? Here’s what you can do if you find out that your child is bullying others.
Acknowledge: When you find out that your child has made a mistake, double-check the situation and once you find evidence, acknowledge your child’s actions. How you respond will vary based on the age of your child and the severity of their actions.
Communicate: Sit down with your child and tell them what you have found out. Ask them to explain their behaviour. When they tell you their story, try to put yourself in their shoes to better understand the situation. You might find it hard to keep your cool, but stay patient. Losing your temper will not help you or your child.
Explain consequences & expectations: Explain to them the consequences of their actions and how harmful bullying can be. It is also important that they understand your expectations. They need to make amends with the person/people they were bullying. And if they receive punishment, then they need to accept the consequences of their actions with humility. You can also disconnect their phone, or cut off their access to the internet for some time.
Model good behaviour: Introspect and think about whether you have unknowingly influenced your child’s behaviour. Ensure that you are setting the right example for your child. Treat other people with compassion, be empathetic, avoid gossip and rumours, and maintain internet safety. Let other family members know so that they can model good behaviours and collectively work towards improving your child’s behaviour.
Monitor change: Once your child’s punishment is over, and some time has passed, check to see if your child’s behaviour has changed. If you find out that they have actually improved and are no longer involved in bullying, you can praise them and reinforce their good behaviour. However, if you find out that they are still engaging in bullying, then you need to set new boundaries with your child and maybe seek professional counselling to deal with their concerns.
All said and done, parents are the first line of defence that children have. Your children are your responsibility; so no matter how hard it seems, communicating with them, letting them know you support them and that you want what’s best for them can help them feel safe, secure and happy.
Children in a Digital World. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.unicef.org/publications/files/SOWC_2017_ENG_WEB.pdf
Cyber-bullying: What Parents Can Do About It. (n.d.). Retrieved May 7, 2020, from The Center for Parenting Education website: https://centerforparentingeducation.org/library-of-articles/handling-bullying-issues/cyber-bullying-what-parents-can-do-about-it/
Handler, S. (2013, December 2). 10 Ways Parents Can Help Prevent Cyberbullying. Retrieved from World of Psychology website: https://psychcentral.com/blog/10-ways-parents-can-help-prevent-cyberbullying/
How to Keep Your Teen (or Tween) Safe Online. (2020, April 21). Retrieved May 7, 2020, from SafeWise website: https://www.safewise.com/resources/internet-safety-for-teens/
How to Raise Media-Savvy Kids in the Digital Age. (n.d.). Retrieved May 7, 2020, from Wired website: https://www.wired.com/story/kids-digital-media-literacy-tips/
Prevent Cyberbullying, Cyber Safety Policies, Respond to cyberbullying. (n.d.). Retrieved May 7, 2020, from http://cyberbaap.org/cyberbullying/preventing-cyberbullying/
Teaching Netiquette to Kids. (n.d.). Retrieved May 7, 2020, from Psychology Today website: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/passive-aggressive-diaries/201210/teaching-netiquette-kids
Your child bullying others. (n.d.). Retrieved May 7, 2020, from Raising Children Network website: http://raisingchildren.net.au/articles/bullying_-_your_child_bullying.html