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In this digitally connected world, bullying has gone viral. It’s no longer enough for a bully to push your child around just at school, now the bully can harass your child twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. It’s naïve to think you could shield your child from ever being bullied, but here are some things you can do to be proactive in helping your child minimize the risk of cyber bullying and deal with it when it does happen.
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Four Parental Tactics to Prevent Cyber Bullying
1. Discuss Online Etiquette and Discuss it Often: There is no play-by-play here. Your child can connect to online to anybody worldwide at ANY time… this is new territory. There is no what to say and what not to say manual. Just communicate with your child about everything and do it often! You should discuss what is appropriate and not appropriate for online activity (Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, Google searches, etc.) and for texting.
Your child must understand that they are responsible for anything sent by text from their phone and once sent, it can’t be un-sent. It can only be magnified if the person chooses to forward it to somebody else. This happens more often than you would think and is a detrimental form of cyber bullying. Discuss pictures, videos, and sexting with your teen. Once something is texted or sent out… if it falls into the wrong hands it can be a very hard lesson in bullying for any child on the receiving end. One mistake here can change your child’s entire social world.
The same is true for receiving inappropriate things. If your child ever receives something inappropriate they should know to let you know right away. If they forward it to somebody else, not only does it hurt that person, it could become a legal mess for them as well (especially if it’s something sexual in nature).
2. Monitor Facebook: My daughter is 15 and my wife and I still monitor Facebook. We have her password, we are friends with her, and we have monitoring software installed on our computer so we can see everything that originates from that computer. SpectorSoft is what we use, but there are a lot of companies out there. Just Google “parent monitoring software".
As a dean of discipline in a middle school, I would say hands down that most cyber bullying occurs on Facebook. So if your child has an account, he or she should understand it’s a privilege and you will monitor it. They should also understand that they don’t have to be “friends" with everybody who invites them AND that their account should be kept “private". This allows only their friends to see things. Facebook is notorious for changing their policies so just keep an eye on their settings and Facebook activity.
3. Read Text Messages: I imagine this idea is like spanking. There are probably parents on both sides of the fence on this one. But we have our daughter’s phone code and we peruse it a few times a week for anything that needs our attention. Your teen (like mine) may not like it and may have many names for it (spying, lack of privacy, etc.). I call it ownership. When you can buy the phone and pay the bill each month all on your own (credit check included), then you can dictate my access to your phone.
If this expectation is laid out when they get the phone it will be much easier than giving them complete reign and then trying to exert more control later on. But it can be done… you do pay the bill after all. Don’t be afraid to cut it off. It isn’t a toy and they can get into serious trouble with it that will change the direction of their life.
4. Encourage Transparency: Transparency builds trust on both sides. If you want to stop bullying as soon as it happens, you must have access to information. Your child will not give you all the details if they aren’t comfortable telling you things. So try to be as transparent as possible with your children and encourage them to do the same.
If your child is being transparent, there won’t be missing sections to their text messages or missing elements of a story. It’s very important when it comes to bullying because as a parent it can be easy to jump to conclusions. Retaliation looks a lot like bullying if you don’t have all the facts. If your child says something and another child retaliates, it’s easy to see what that child said and jump on the bully bandwagon if you are not aware that your child is dishing it out too. Make sure that the deer is a deer before you start shooting.
If you focus on these four elements of parenting when it comes to the realm of cyberspace, you will greatly reduce the chances of your child being a victim of an ongoing bullying situation. If you are doing all these things consistently, you should notice anything out of the ordinary and then you can immediately intervene and work with your child to find a solution.