Written by Russ Gadzhiev, PhD
“Never be bullied into silence. Never allow yourself to be made a victim. Accept no one’s definition of your life; define yourself.” – Harvey Fierstein
“Cyber bullies can hide behind a mask of anonymity online, and do not need direct physical access to their victims to do unimaginable harm.” – Anna Maria Chavez
“Unless and until our society recognizes cyber bullying for what it is, the suffering of thousands of silent victims will continue.” – Anna Maria Chavez
The Internet has helped learning online become a widespread practice. Indeed, because of the Internet, many people now have access to things that had not been as accessible before. However, with the advent of the online era, new challenges now face children and their parents. One of these challenges is cyber bullying.
What is cyber bullying? Concisely, cyber bullying is a form of harassment that takes place online. It has become increasingly widespread and any child, who spends considerable time online, may be vulnerable to cyber bullying. As a parent, you need to be aware of the potential dangers of social media and you need to know what things to do if your child becomes the target of online bullying. In this article, we are going to discuss three important things that you need to do to make sure that your child is using social media in a safe way.
So, as a parent, what can you do to make sure that your child does not become the victim of online bullying? Fortunately, there are many things that you can do and below you can see the three most important ones:
Understand How Social Media and Messaging Apps Function
Yes, you believe that you already have exceptional knowledge about the existing apps and platforms. But the point here is that you need to be aware of the social media and messaging apps that your child has on their phone or their computer. Be aware that there are various apps that can be dangerous. Life-streaming and video chat apps, dating apps, mining apps and many others fall under that category.
Knowledge of technology is even more important if we consider that children may be reluctant to share their problems with you, knowing that they will have to explain to you how technology works.
So do some research and find out how the platforms and apps that your child is using are working. This will help you prevent potential problems before they emerge. You can simply turn to Google with a quick query: “How does Instagram work?” You will immediately be given a lot of useful articles that will help you be informed on the undesirable effect of this app. Remember, if you are well-informed, you will be able to make an effective strategy on how to prevent cyber bullying from happening.
Learn About Cyber Bullying
Although this piece of advice may seem obvious and even not worth mentioning, but the truth is that cyber bullying is becoming increasingly sophisticated every year. Those who engage in cyber bullying are becoming increasingly creative and their actions are not always easily discerned. Although it is impossible to anticipate all their thoughts, intentions and tactics, there are a few things that you should know.
First, cyber bullying is not always limited to online harassment. Cyber bullies do many other things. So, for example, they can post embarrassing or unflattering pictures of their victim or even Photoshop them to make fun of their victim. These photos then go viral among kids and cause serious embarrassment and problems for those whose photos have been posted.
There is another form of cyber bullying – cyber bullies create fake accounts to “troll” (that is, make fun of) others without revealing their identity. They can also take a photo of a conversation that was supposed to be private and then publish it without asking for any permission. So as a parent you need to be aware of all these pitfalls related to the use of social media by your child.
Initiate a Conversation with Your Child About Cyber Bullying and Continue to Discuss
So, after doing some research on how cyber bullying works and learning about the nature of social media you can proceed to the next step. Start talking to your child about cyber bullying and do subtle steps to raise their awareness about the topic. Teach them how to identify the signs of cyber bullying and ask them to inform you whenever they see it.
If you have your own social media, you can even give your child examples of cyber bullying. It will also help you both learn together what cyber bullying is and how to deal with it. Make a point of reminding your child to keep their information private. If they do not know how to do that, teach them to change their privacy settings.
Communicate with your child and encourage them to establish rules about what they can and must never do online. You can even introduce some screen limits for them to discourage excessive use of social media. Try to encourage your child to share the info on what social media they have on their phones. Do not be intrusive but let them know that you are interested to know what they do and post online. And especially what kind of people they interact with.
Learn to Identify Signs of Cyber Bullying
Although by its nature cyber bullying occurs in the online world, the consequences of cyber bullying can be easily identified in real life if you know what you are looking for. For example, if your child becomes more withdrawn, nervous, or excessively sad or if they spend a lot of time on their phones, then something may be happening in their online life.
Sometimes children affected by cyber bullying deactivate their social media accounts, set up new ones or do not want you to see their phones when they are around. So, if you witness any of these things, then it may be useful to begin a conversation. The sooner the better.
It is always good to know what actions you should take if you find out that your child is the victim of bullying. First, you should stay calm. Do not panic. Do not allow yourself to display any strong emotions in front of your child. Be constructive. Try to find out who engages in the bullying process. Try to find out as many details as possible – when it all started, how it spread or is spreading. The more facts you know, the more effective your strategy for helping your child will be.
Remember that it is especially important that you take screenshots of the evidence of your child being bullied. Ask your child to refrain from using social media or decrease their time screen until the dust settles. This reprieve can be a useful break from the online world, which will help your child understand the importance of and appreciate face-to-face communication. Encourage your child to spend time with their friends, who have always supported them. This will help them reclaim their self-esteem.
Your next step should be reporting the incident to the administrators of the app or in case the bully is studying in the same school as your child – to the school’s officials. If your child is against the latter and the situation is disruptive enough, you should still proceed with that.
If you learn from your child, that someone in their class is being bullied online you can also do something about that. You can, for example, tell them that they need to post something positive and supportive for the bullied person. Usually, bullies tend to back down if they see that others are supporting their victim.
If you think the situation is serious you can turn to professionals. Bullying can be damaging to one’s self-esteem and psychological development, so if you think that your child has been significantly distressed by their bullies, the counsellor can help them. Professional mental health support will help them work through their distressing experience and will equip them with strategies to identify and fight against bullying. Counselling sessions will also prevent your child from developing anxiety and depression.
Russ Gadzhiev obtained his PhD in history and politics from University of Melbourne. He also holds a master’s degree in International Relations from Moscow State University of International Relations, a top-ranking diplomatic school. Russ is a strong education professional with a history of working in the higher education sector of Australia and effectively communicates with learners from diverse cultural backgrounds. He is enthusiastic about teaching and mentoring, writing, curriculum development, research, information management and public speaking. He is fluent in Russian, English, Spanish and Portuguese.