How Tech Turns Against Teens: Teaching Your Child about Cyberbullying
“When parents think of cyberbullying today, they need to think multi-dimensional,” explains Melissa Butler, PhD, pediatric psychologist at Riley Hospital for Children.
When it comes to cyberbullying, kids can pick a variety of poisons. Some send mean-spirited texts or embarrassing photos, while others prefer sharing brow-beating blogs or cruel social media comments. It’s never just one thing, say experts. “When parents think of cyberbullying today, they need to think multi-dimensional,” explains Melissa Butler, PhD, pediatric psychologist at Riley Hospital for Children. “We’ve moved past the days of the lone bully standing in the school yard. With cyberbullying, offenders can be just one child or groups of kids and confirming their identities can sometimes be impossible.”
So, what can parents do to protect their kids? “Bring it up and out in the open,” suggest Dr. Butler. “Don’t wait for your child to broach the subject with you because they likely won’t.” Why? “Most kids don’t like to tell their parents about cyberbullying because they are afraid that they might do something to make their social lives worse.”
Think your child won’t be affected, think again. “Parents need to realize that it’s not a matter of if but when. Their child will likely be exposed to this behavior at some point, maybe not a victim but maybe as a bystander and families need to have a dialogue about how to handle that situation beforehand and know they aren’t alone,” explains Dr. Butler. In addition to addressing it from the victim side, it’s also essential to talk about being a bystander, she says. “It’s the see something, say something mentality. We have to teach kids to tell an adult what’s happening when they encounter cyberbullying and to not share mean texts, photos or comments. Kids need to understand that by participating in the process, they are supporting and promoting it—regardless of whether or not they started it and that can be hard for some kids to understand,” says Dr. Butler.
Her advice? “Have the critical conversations. Speak with your child to let her know that it’s not okay to laugh or share or retweet mean content and that doing nothing is never okay. Mean messages can stick around forever. They can be viewed and reshared over and over again significantly affecting a child’s self-esteem.”
Parents should also strive to increase transparency and communication with their child when it comes to social media usage. “Parents need to monitor tech time early on. They should know their child’s log on for any social media accounts and limit usage at home,” suggests Dr. Butler.
-- By Sarah Burns