Too often, the pain and suffering inflicted on young people by bullying – and by cyberbullying in particular – go unnoticed until it is too late. Children may be reluctant to admit that they have become victims. Frequently, the seriousness of these cases is not entirely evident to parents and teachers, who have far less experience in the world of social media that has become the daily bread and butter for younger generations. But if recent media attention (like the Carte Blanche story that covered the tragic suicide of a bullied 13-year-old girl and the plight of her heartbroken mother) is anything to go by, the issue is only growing more serious with every passing year.
The truth is that even attentive and loving parents might not be fully aware of what’s going on in their kids’ lives until it is too late. In an increasingly connected world, parents need to take control and ensure the safety of their children online, 24/7. Digital parenting is now an aspect of childcare that nobody can afford to ignore.
Bullying is defined as the activity of “repeated, aggressive behaviour intended to hurt another individual physically, mentally or emotionally”. It is the use of force, coercion or threat to abuse, dominate or intimidate others who have less power and are therefore unable to defend themselves. There are three main types of bullying:
Verbal bullying: including teasing, name-calling, taunting, inappropriate sexual comments, or threats
Social bullying: including leaving someone out on purpose, embarrassing someone in public, and spreading rumours
Physical bullying: including hitting/kicking, damage to property, and other physical acts
Acts are classified as bullying if they meet the following three criteria:
- Hostile intent
- Imbalance of power
- Repetition over a period of time
What, then, is the difference between bullying and cyberbullying? Essentially, cyberbullying has all the same hallmarks as the kind of bullying that takes place in person. The key difference is that it is done via electronic media rather than face-to-face. This can include social media, text messages, email, hacking into someone’s personal devices, stealing sensitive information from smartphones and laptops, revenge porn, and more.
Take the first step in protecting your children from cyberbullying
What to do if your child is being cyberbullied
Sadly, children often only come to their parents and caretakers once the issue of cyberbullying has wrought lasting damage and has been allowed to spiral out of control. By this point, the stress and anxiety may already be taking a heavy toll on your child, so it’s important to give them every opportunity to speak up earlier rather than later if it happens to them.
- Talk to your child about cyberbullying, especially if they spend significant amounts of time on social media or have their own smartphone
- Keep open channels of communication with your children about how to deal with bullies, and basic best practices for staying safe online
- Listen carefully to your child’s concerns and opinions if they are being bullied and discuss possible approaches openly with them
- Ask your child’s school to share their anti-bulling policy and make sure to ask how this applies to the online world, as well as what measures it has in place to deal with instances of cyberbullying
- Report incidences of bullying to the school. Request an urgent meeting with the principal, your child’s teachers, and, if known, the bully and his/her parents
- Gather as much evidence as possible, including screenshots, recordings and notes regarding dates and times of bullying activity
- Agree to urgent actions and a timeframe for changes to be implemented
- If at ANY point you believe there is a direct threat of physical harm or laws are being broken (for example, through the dissemination of nude images, etc.), do not hesitate to get the police involved
Tools and devices for concerned parents in a digital world
For parents who may not be familiar with the intricacies of Instagram, Snapchat and the plethora of other channels out there, it’s easy to feel helpless when your children are going through cyberbullying. Today’s parents worry over many aspects of their kids’ digital lives, including:
- Excessive technology use and screen time
- Management of exposure to harmful content
- Friends and acquaintances sharing inappropriate content with your children
- Defending against hacking and other cyber-threats
The rise in cyberbullying has resulted in the development of many apps, online services and even hardware devices that can help prevent your children from being exposed to harmful content online, and even alert parents when signs of cyberbullying are detected. Here are a few things to consider before deciding which software solution suits your needs best:
- Does the supplier offer customer support and setup assistance?
- Does it include parental control features?
- Does it include an antivirus?
- Does it work across operating systems – Apple, Android and Windows devices?
- Does it include online web content filtering?
- Does it include a device location feature?
A good solution can be configured to your specific needs, the daily habits of your child and the rest of your household, and will work in the background without getting in the way of full, safe internet use. As the digital world becomes more a part of our everyday lives, it’s never too late or too early to become a master of digital parenting.
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