With each new generation, the one before it has to deal with ever more new and complex issues. Bullying has been around since the dawn of time and parents are forced to police it in advanced ways now that the Internet has become so ubiquitous.
It used to be you had to worry about your kid getting bullied only in school. Or maybe on the bus ride home. Now, cyberbullying is the new enemy where mean people can spout hate and pick at kids 24 hours a day, 7 days a week over social media and other platforms.
So how does a parent combat that form of bullying? How do you protect your teens and other kids from the harsh words of their classmates and strangers?
Here are some tips that can help prevent or stop cyberbullying.
Avoid Social Media As Long as You Can
The vast majority of cyberbullying takes place on social media platforms. The easiest way that parents can prevent bullying from happening is to not allow your child to create profiles on these networks. Of course, achieving this task means that you need to have had an open and honest dialogue with your teen all along.
In other words, if your child is used to doing what he/she wants with little oversight, this tactic may not work well for you. Yes, things can still be said about your child online even if they aren't there. That does not mean your child has to go online to respond to anything being said. The underlying theory here is that if you give bullies the platform to target your child, then you cannot unring that bell.
Get Your Parents Involved
For many teens, high school is one of the most difficult and awkward chapters of their life. When they are being bullied, they typically feel like they can handle things on their own or that the situation is not that bad. Teens need to understand how to recognize bullying behavior and understand that it's ok to come forward and ask an adult for help.
It can take an incredible amount of courage for teens to do this. The best course of action to start dealing with cyberbullying is to tell an adult (such as a parent, grandparent, older sibling, etc) who can help you determine what the next steps should be.
So let's say for argument's sake that your teen already has all of the profiles under the sun on social media. The first course of action you should take to stop a cyberbully is to block them from your teen's profile. Leading sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and others all have functionality that allows you to block people from posting comments, writing on your page or wall, or engaging with you in any way.
Blocking users will not directly alert them to what you've done. It will prevent future abuses and it will also create a record of your teen attempting to distance themselves from another user of a website should further action be required down the road.
Do A Tech Blackout
Teens spend the majority of their time on the Internet and their mobile phones. When a bullying situation arises, it can feel like their whole world is crashing down (because their phone and the Internet is their whole world).
Even though it can be hard, encourage your teen (or demand) that they take a tech break. This is a period of time where they aren't using any electronic devices or social websites to communicate. If they have an open mind about it, this break can give them the clarity they need to make a decision or just to step back and think for a little while.
The break does not have to be long and they should understand that it is not a punishment. We are talking about a day or two here on a weekend at some point where they don't use electronics.
Report Behavior to Appropriate People
Not all bullying needs to be dealt with in the same manner. Sometimes speaking to the person doing the cyberbullying takes care of the issue. Other times it may take something more extreme such as getting school administrators or even law enforcement involved.
Assess your own personal situation and determine what (if any) outside people should be brought in to help. If your teen is experiencing typical bullying such as name calling, sending hurtful images or memes, or similar behavior, consider contacting those people's parents. If there are threats made against your teen that are credible, contact law enforcement and school administrators immediately. Many times when bad things happen, it is because someone in a position of authority such as a parent or guardian did not take something seriously enough.
Cyberbullying is a very pervasive and degrading process. It's not as if one day someone goes online and attacks your teen all at once. These behaviors play out slowly over months after being precipitated by some other event. Teens will often hide the fact that they are being bullied, ignore it, or be unable to recognize when it's happening until things are out of control.
The first thing teenagers should do when they feel like maybe they are being cyberbullied is to reach out to an adult they can trust. They should then go through the process of making sure the cyberbully can no longer communicate with them online. Stepping back from tech for a day or two to gather your thoughts is also another great strategy to get re-focused and deal with the situation.
Teens should never engage with a cyberbully (i.e. respond to comments or things done to them online) as this can only make the problem worse. They or a parent or other adult should get the appropriate people involved to help stop the bullying behavior. This could range from contacting the person's parents to getting school administrators involved. As a last resort and only if appropriate, parents should contact law enforcement for credible threats.
If we all work together to understand and deal with cyberbullying, we can make it a rare occurrence or even a thing of the past.