cyberbullyingCyberbullying is a fast-growing form of bullying that involves sending offensive or threatening messages and images through the computer or mobile phone. It is most often seen with middle- and high-school students, although elementary-school students have also been involved in this high-tech form of bullying.

Just as with the more traditional face-to-face form of bullying, parents must be proactive in preventing cyberbullying. The overriding goal is to help children learn to act in a safe and respectful manner while online. You may lack the technological savvy of your children, but you can certainly teach them how to make good decisions when it comes to interacting with others online or on their cell phone. Without adult guidance, cyberbullying is likely to continue unabated.

9 ways to reduce bullying risk

The following steps can help parents lessen their children’s exposure to online social cruelty. 

  1. Consider not allowing your elementary-school child to go on the Internet if you are not home. Time-limiting software may help you do this. 
  2. Place the computer in a common area of your home, such as the family room, so you can keep an eye on your child’s computer activity.
  3. Set guidelines for your children’s Internet use. These might include the amount of time they can use the computer, the topics they are barred from talking about online, the messages they receive that they should bring to your attention, and the appropriate response to requests for personal information. 
  4. Provide your children with the most effective tool for preventing cyberbullying: good judgment. Stress to them the importance of being respectful of others and not doing or saying anything they would not want done to themselves.
  5. Explain why they should not post personal information online. Tell them specifically not to post their name, street address, e-mail address, and telephone number.
  6. Get to know your children’s Internet friends to help you monitor their online influences.
  7. Monitor where your children chat or share information with groups and individuals (Skype, G+, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc.). Stay on top of “group chat” and “group text” trends because options for “talking” with others change constantly.
  8. Review your children’s Internet activity by checking their computer’s browser history. Talk with them if they are going to sites that concern you. 
  9. Consider using filtering software on your computer. This software offers protection features that will lessen the chance that your child will be a target of cyberbullies. As one example, you might consider using the Google Safe Search filtering tool.

Your children may protest your involvement, claiming that what they say and do online is their business, but you have an obligation to ensure that they are engaged in responsible online behavior and are not being harassed by others.

Dr. Shore, a psychologist, teaches part-time at Rutgers. He has authored six books and created a film series on bullying. Visit his website or email him.

For more on Cyberbullying:

What else can parents do to stop cyberbullying?