So how can we as parents safeguard our kids? Let us first be aware of the ways in which children are targeted, for it is only when we know how & where, will we know how-to, prevent. The crux of the matter is the two primary outcomes of cyber bullying. The first is Disrepute. Spreading falsehoods, rumors, compromising pictures and videos, creating fictitious online identities or content on behalf of the individual; all this can bring damaging discredit to a child. The second and potentially more harmful outcome of cyber bullying is Damaging Self-Concept. Trolling, making fun through posting hurtful messages on public & popular digital platforms, inciting racial/religious targeting, issuing all manner of threats; all this can severely damage the confidence of a child and render them socially incapacitated.
So how, as parents, can we prevent and/or deal with this kind of detrimental cyber-targeting?
Awareness of one’s child’s Online Life is very important. Not only should we be aware of where, when, and how much children are ‘living digitally’, we should also try and strike a healthy balance between online and offline time.
There will also be some tell-tale signs that parents would do well to be aware of. These relate mostly to the child’s behavior. Huge fluctuations in the amount of online-time. Extreme emotional reactions to activities on connected devices. Skirting any discussion about online activities. Hiding devices and shutting screens in the presence of an adult/parent. A growing reluctance to engage socially. Seemingly unprompted termination of social media/online accounts. Depressed and disconnected behavior. All these are signs that the child might be the subject of some manner of cyber bullying.
Now that we are aware of the indications of potential cyber bullying, the natural corollary is, how to deal with it. There are two aspects to this post-bullying scenario. One is Support and other is Report. Help needs to be offered from two standpoints – one is emotional support at the home-front, and the other is using the authorities and laws effectively. The former requires a bit of dexterity. Without seeming intrusive, the key is to TALK to your child. Express your wholehearted support, no matter what, and your child will eventually come around and share exactly what happened in the first place. Once this talk has taken place, you can’t suddenly change tracks and become reprimanding. It is like dealing with any post-traumatic situation. The child doesn’t need a lecture, rather unconditional reassurance. Their entire self-worth has been shattered. What’s required is sensitivity and care. Once you provide that emotional anchor, see how the child is behaving. If the behavioral problems persist, further healing is needed, which can come from family, and if required, from a professional mental-health practitioner. The other facet of this is to report the crime (and cyber bullying is very much a crime) to the correct authorities. Try and present a record of the child’s online activity that includes the bullying incident to the Cyber-Crime Branch and take legal recourse. In doing so, you will do your bit to ensure that cyber-bullies are don’t go scot-free, perhaps the only precedent that will instill some fear among these faceless attackers!
There was a time when our children stood the risk of being bullied at school, in the colony, or in other physical geographies that they frequented. Many would agree that those were still controllable environments, at least parents could monitor them. Cyberspace with its infinite endlessness is simply too vast to contain, and threats loom large, constantly. The only way of anticipating them is by close observation of children, and by sharing a friendly rapport with them in the first place, where ideally, they would themselves come and share any worrisome incident. It’s a dangerous new world, and as parents, we need to be on guard!
By Kartik Bajoria, Writer, educator and moderator