Ah, technology. Children and teens are using it more than ever. And thanks to mobile broadband and high speed internet access, they’re able to engage with the social playground known as cyberspace. But what if that playground isn’t as safe you thought?
Just as real-life playgrounds have bullies, the online world has cyberbullying, defined by the Cyberbullying Research Center as the “willful and repeated harm inflicted through the use of computers, cell phones, and other electronic devices.” It can happen on social media sites and message boards, in chats and instant messages, and through email. The National Crime Prevention Council states that almost half of all American kids have been bullied online, and almost a quarter have experienced it more than once. The effect this abuse has on its victims can be devastating, resulting in low self-esteem, poor academic performance, and depression. This is similar to what occurs with real-life bullying except cyberbullying allows no respite. The school day will eventually end at some point; the internet is available 24 hours a day.
Often, children won’t tell their parents they are being harassed online. So what can you do to prevent your kids from getting caught up in cyberbullying? Be aware of the sites your child visits. Tell them not to forward any mean emails or messages, and to report any bullying to a trusted adult. If your child is being bullied online, discourage them from responding to the bully. Explain that getting revenge against a cyberbully – or anyone – can only lead to more anger and pain without resolution. If cyberbullying incidents start to add up, encourage your child to keep track of them. This will prove helpful should teachers or other authority figures need to be involved. Finally, assure your child it is not their fault they’ve been targeted by bullies.
Children’s rights advocate Marian Wright Edelman once said, “Being considerate of others will take you and your children further in life than any college degree.” It’s vital to instill compassion and tolerance in children, and to teach them that their actions, whether online or off, do indeed have consequences. By speaking openly about cyberbullying, you can lessen its impact and help keep your child safe in cyberspace.