Cyberbullying: if you have a tween or teen and haven’t workshopped this with your kids then you need to put a time in the diary now. Cyberbullying is one of the biggest challenges our children’s generation will face and unfortunately, it isn’t going away.
The recent tragic suicide of 14 year old Aussie girl Amy ‘Dolly’ Everett as a result of online bullying needs to be a wake-up call for parents. Many kids who are bullied online feel completely ashamed and publicly humiliated and can’t see a way past the embarrassment. They don’t have the skills to handle it and don’t know where to seek help. Yes, we are first-generation digital parents BUT we need to prioritise our children’s safety and well-being online. And sort this out FAST!
How Big An Issue Is Cyberbullying?
In its 2016-17 annual report, the Office of the e-Safety Commissioner reveals an increase of 60% in the reported cases of cyberbullying compared with the previous year. The report also shows that:
- Aussie tweens/teens between the ages of 12 and 16 are the primary targets of cyberbullying
- Girls made up 63% of the victims
And it isn’t just us parents that consider this to be a big issue – our teens are also concerned. A study of 5000 teens across eleven countries by Vodafone in 2015 showed that in fact over half the teens surveyed considered cyberbullying to be worse than face-to-face bullying, and that 43% believe it is a bigger problem for young people than drug abuse!
So, clearly we have a problem on our hands – and one that isn’t getting better over time.
Why Is Cyberbullying Occurring More Frequently?
Many parenting experts believe a lack of empathy to be a major factor in cyberbullying. In her book, Unselfie, US Parenting Expert Dr Michele Borba explains that we are in the midst of an ‘empathy crisis’ which is contributing to bullying behaviour. She believes teens today are far less empathetic than they were 30 years ago.
Giving children access to devices and social media before they have the emotional smarts to navigate the online world is another factor. You would be hard-pressed to find a child in Year 5 or 6 at a primary school in any Australian capital city who doesn’t have access to or own a smartphone. And once that phone has been given to your child, it’s impossible to supervise their every move. Within minutes they can join social media platforms (some creativity required on the age), enter chat rooms, and view highly disturbing images.
The younger the child, the less likely he or she is to have the emotional intelligence to either navigate tricky situations or make smart decisions online. Perhaps we should all take a lesson from Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates who made his kids wait till they were 14 until being given a phone?
How To Minimise The Risk Of Your Child Being Cyberbullied
There are no guarantees in life, but there are certain steps we can take to reduce the chance of our children being impacted by cyberbullying. Here are my top 5 suggestions:
Establishing a culture where honest, two-way communication is part of the family dynamic is one of the absolute best things you can do. Let your children know they can confide in you, that nothing is off-limits and that you won’t overreact. Then they will be more likely to open up to you about a problem before it becomes insurmountable.
- Understand Their World.
With a deep understanding of your child’s world (their friends, their favourite activities, the movies they see) you’re better equipped to notice when things aren’t swimming along nicely. Establishing relationships with your child’s teachers or year group mentors is another way to keep your ear to the ground. When a child’s behaviour and activity level changes, it could be an indicator that all is not well. So some parental detective work may be required!
- Weave Cyber Safety Into Your Family Dialogue.
We all talk about sun safety and road safety with our children from a young age. But we need to commit to doing the same about cyber safety. Teach your kids never to share passwords, never to give out identifying information of any kind online, never to respond to online trolls or bullies. Then they will definitely add a layer of armour to shield them from becoming a victim of cyberbullying.
- Limit Screen Time.
I know it seems like an ongoing battle but limiting screen time for social media is essential. One of the easiest ways of doing this is by offering them attractive real-life options. Bike rides, beach visits and outings with friends and family are all good ways of redirecting their attention. And make sure their phone/tablet is out of easy reach at night. Yes, it is more effort but it is so worth it. Less time online = less risk!
- Teach Your Kids What To Do If They Are Cyberbullied.
It is essential your kids know what to do if they are being cyberbullied. Blocking the bullying is critical, so take some time with your kids to understand the block features on the social networks they use. Collecting evidence is crucial, everything should be screen-shot – ensure your child knows how to do this. You can report the cyberbullying incident to the Office of the eSafety Commissioner who work to have offensive material removed and cyberbullying situations addressed. And why not check out the support offered by your child’s school? It’s important your kids know they have a number of trusted adults in their life they can get help from if things get tough.
So, let’s commit to doing what we can to protect our kids from cyberbullying. Your kids need to know that they can talk to you about anything that is bothering them online – even if it is tough or awkward. Dolly Everett’s final drawing, before she took her life, included the heart-rending caption ‘…speak even if your voice shakes.’ Please encourage your kids to do so.