October is National Bullying Prevention Month. While I know more than I ever wanted to know about old-school give-me-your-lunch-money bullying, I am clueless about cyberbullying, so I thought this observance might be a good opportunity to learn more about it—and to share with you my key discoveries about how you can help protect your kids from it.
I looked at many websites about the subject and found a few, like education.com (especially its e-booklet: “Bullying at School and Online”) and stopbullying.gov, to be particularly helpful. But what they all made clear was that cyberbullying takes place in an overall online environment—and the first step to preventing cyberbullying is to make sure your child’s online environment is a safe one.
If your child is first delving into the wonderful world of the Internet, the first step, says Alanna Levine, M.D., a New York-based pediatrician, executive committee member of the AAP’s Council on Communications and Media, and mom of two, is to establish a set of rules. Be clear with your child about what sites she can visit, what she’s allowed to do online, and that you’ll be checking the browser history (and then actually do it!). Dr. Levine also recommends you place limits on non-educational screen time, require your kids to seek parental permission before joining social media sites, and tell them never to give out personal information online.
And stopbullying.gov came up with this gem of advice: Ask to “friend” or “follow” your kids on social media sites—or ask another trusted adult to do so. Genius!
If your child is delving into the wonderful world of smartphones and other devices, tell your child that you’ll be checking texts and other information, and that he needs parental permission before downloading any apps. If your child asks if he can download an app and you’re not sure about it, check a site like Common Sense Media, says Dr. Levine, which reviews them for age appropriateness.
Of course, where there’s a problem, there’s a product, and cyberbullying is no exception. Social media monitoring software and Internet filtering software exist and offer an added layer of protection for your child and comfort for you. At a minimum, says Russ Warner, online safety educator and CEO of Net Nanny (which offers such products), turn on Google Safe Search and YouTube Safety Mode. Warner also points out that some devices, like the iPhone and iPod Touch, have built-in parental controls features to help monitor the apps used on them (score!).
But, both Warner and Dr. Levine emphasize that these tools are not substitutes for vigilance and communication. So before you give your tween that smartphone, talk to her about how once something is posted, it’s out of her control, which means she shouldn’t share anything electronically that she wouldn’t want the world to see. Make sure she knows never to share passwords, even with friends, since anyone with her password can pretend to be her online and have access to her personal information. (Stopbullying.gov recommends that you have all your child’s passwords, but make it clear you’d use them only in an emergency.) And tell her to let you know immediately if she ever receives a message or photo that makes her uncomfortable. Explaining that you won’t take away her computer or cell phone in response might make her more likely to confide, stopbullying.gov points out.
If, despite your efforts, you find that your child is a victim of cyberbullying, don’t panic. Actually, go ahead and panic (I would), but then take the following actions:
- Make sure neither you nor your child respond to or forward the message.
- Keep all evidence.
- Block the bully from contacting your child again.
- Report the incident to the media site or Internet provider—the bully’s actions might violate their terms and conditions.
- Report the incident to law enforcement if it involves threats of violence or anything sexually explicit. Click here to find out more about what kinds of bullying that New Jersey, specifically, considers against the law.
Although cyberbullying is a modern-day problem, the ultimate antidote is an age-old one: good judgment. The more you teach your child to be able to rely on her own good judgment, the more you can protect her both online and offline. If you figure out how to do that, please let me know!
More by NJ Family's Real Moms of NJ Blogger, Renée Sagiv Riebling: