Since this is Ontario’s Bullying Awareness and Prevention week, I think it’s a great time to talk about what we can do as parents to support our kids when it comes to online bullying. As you read, please keep in mind that for most youth, online interactions are a healthy, positive part of their social world. However, it’s important that we understand cyberbullying so that we can help our children continue to enjoy the benefits of social media.
What is cyberbullying?
To understand cyberbullying, we need to first understand what bullying really means. You can find a definition in our WRDSB Policy 6009, but I’ll summarize it by saying that bullying is behaviour that usually is repeated, is meant to cause some form of upset or harm, and takes place where there is a power imbalance between the people involved. Keep in mind that behaviour is bullying if the aggressor should have known that it would cause upset, and if the targeted student perceived there to be a power imbalance between the two students.
Now that we understand bullying, what is cyberbullying? Cyberbullying is bullying through an electronic means. This could include hurtful statements posted on social media, impersonating someone on social media or sharing of private posts or photos.
WRDSB policy says that “Electronic or Cyber-bullying includes the use of email, cell phones, text messages, and internet sites to threaten, harass, embarrass, socially exclude, or damage reputations and friendships.”
Unlike bullying that may have occurred when we were kids, cyberbullying doesn’t end when the school day is over. Students who are targeted by cyberbullying can feel targeted 24/7 – they don’t get a break in the evenings and on weekends. Online bullying may not be happening at school, but knowing that it will likely make school an uncomfortable place for the student being targeted, cyberbullying can still be disciplined at school.
What can you do as parents and caregivers to help?
It can feel overwhelming trying to protect and support our kids in the age of social media. It can also be tricky to hold our children accountable for what they say to their peers online while appreciating their privacy. However, our children need to learn that they should provide people with the same respect online as they would in person. They should not say anything online that they would not say face-to-face to someone. Younger children may have less maturity to understand this, which makes monitoring their online presence critical – both for their benefit, and the benefit of their peers.
Here is a good experiential learning activity you can try with your children when they begin using social media. It explains cyberbullying to them and allows them to practice responding to different Cyberbullying situations.
Five tips to help protect your child
1. Do not permit internet enabled devices in bedrooms overnight. Charge phones and Chromebooks outside of the bedroom. Doing so will give your children a much-needed break from their online social lives – be they positive or negative – so they can get the sleep they need.
2. Assure your kids that if they are being harmed online that telling you will not result in you taking away their access. It might feel like you are protecting your daughter by insisting she shut down her Instagram account, but in reality, you are punishing the victim. Promise your children that if they come to you with a concern you will work together to find a solution.
3. When your children begin using social media, do the occasional spot-check of what kinds of conversations and posts they are making. You want to maintain trust with your children so don’t be sneaky – let your children know that you will be doing this. Anything posted online can be become public in a split-second. Your children must understand they should only post things that they would be comfortable with you, and their whole school, seeing.
4. If bullying does occur, you can help support your children in deciding how they want to address it. It is rarely a good idea to “fight back” with their own online response. An important first step is to document the bullying with screen shots and saving unwanted communications. Following that, your children might want to:
- block the sender and/or adjust their privacy settings
- create new accounts and/or change passwords
- report unwanted comments or compromising photos to the social media site or app
- get help from their mobile service provider for inappropriate texts
- report bullying to school administrators
- report to police where the bullying has reached the level of a criminal offence
5. Provide your children with the number for Kids Help Phone. Sometimes our children will not feel comfortable coming to us for help and, in those circumstances, we will want them to be able to access reliable help. Kids Help Phone can help your child through managing a cyberbullying situation: 1-800-668-6868.
Don’t feel overwhelmed. Do you remember what I said at the start? Social media is generally a positive place for our children – we just want to make sure it stays that way. So, don’t wait until there are problems to get involved in your children’s online world. Social media is important to our kids and we want them to be able to strengthen friendships by posting, texting and liking. And just like you are involved in their “real world”, take an active part in their online world too.