Bullying is not a new phenomenon, but advances in technology have made it far too easy for kids and teens to use social media and texting to create drama, stir up conflict, and inflict emotional pain.
As a parent, it can be exhausting to stay up to date with all the technological aspects of your tween or teen's world while maintaining an open dialogue about bullying and socially responsible behavior.
To help make your job easier, here are 5 ways to make sure your child steers clear of both ends of cyber-bullying...because you don't want to be raising a bully and you don't want your child to be a target or suffer in silence.
1. Know the different types of cyber-bullying that exist.
It's hard to monitor something that you're not intimately familiar with, so be on the lookout for the types of cyber-bullying outlined below and make sure your child knows how to spot them as well:
2. Make sure your child never shares passwords.
One of the most common ways cyber-bullying spreads is when a child uses a peer's phone to send inappropriate texts or pictures. The sender is, in essence, invisible and the child who owns the phone is left accountable for whatever content was spread.
No one wants their child left holding the hot potato, especially if he or she truly had no knowledge of the situation. The best way to prevent this is to help your child understand that sharing passwords, even with best friends, is not a wise choice.
As a safeguard, make it a standard practice to help your child reset his or her password every few weeks.
3. Encourage your child to come to you with concerns...and listen!
Recognize that it may be hard for your child to resist the urge to respond to negative texts or posts, and let your child know he or she can come to you with any concerns about being bullied, observing bullying, or even having participated in it.
If and when your child does come to you, it's important to stop and listen. Instead of dismissing concerns, overreacting, quickly trying to make your child feel better, or jumping in with judgement, ask for details and listen to your child's perspective and feelings.
Even if you might disagree or think there's a misconception, listening is a critical step to keeping lines of communication open. After you've heard and validated your child's point of view, you can move on to provide advice and support. Once you've laid this groundwork, the bonus is that your sage words are less likely to fall on deaf ears.
4. Be active on your child's social media accounts and monitor text conversations.
Knowing what your child does when he or she uses a smart phone or other device is important, and using software (we use Net Nanny in our home) to help is always a plus. As an added safeguard, check things out first hand to help support your child and nip cyber-bullying in the bud.
If your child is inadvertently (or even knowingly) doing or saying things that are hurtful to others, you can help put a stop to it. On the other hand, if your child is on the receiving end of upsetting or malicious comments, you will be able to step in and offer support before things escalate.
Here, the focus should be on having a meaningful discussion with your child or teen about what you're seeing rather than trying to catch him or her doing something wrong.
The latter approach will teach your child to hide their digital footprints from you while an open, non-judgemental conversation designates you as the go-to person your child will seek out for support (which is exactly the position you want to be in).
5. Model respect in your home.
Making respect the norm in your household is the most powerful thing you can do as a parent to prevent cyber-bullying, and all forms of bullying. When you set the precedent that all family members are expected to act and speak respectfully, positive habits are established.
Your kids will continue to conduct themselves respectfully at home, at school, and in the digital world. Beyond that, they will be quick to identify when someone is treating them or others inappropriately.
The home-grown chain of respect starts at the top with parental modeling and coaching (think: no name-calling, raging, or embarrassing/making fun of kids). If siblings start to do these things to each other, which often happens, step in calmly and focus on what you want to see change.
Avoid the common parent trap of yelling, "Stop Yelling!" at your kids, and try the approach of, "Please say that again respectfully." With repetition your kids will know you're serious and will learn that respect is non-negotiable.
Sharing practical strategies that help parents rediscover joy in their children (even when someone's crying, the phone is ringing, and it smells like the house may be burning down)