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Cyber bullying has been a talking point in the news for the last few years, where stories of children being 'attacked' online in social media causing them to go into depression, sometimes forcing the child to change schools, the family to move or tragically an occasional suicide.

How can we as parents help to protect our children from cyber bullying without completely preventing the kids from participating in social media (which may ostracize them from their peers and lead to real-life bullying instead)? While I'd rather not essentially stalk my children online, if that's the only way then are there any ways to either do so discreetly? Or can you recommend a way to convince my children to voluntarily allow us as parents to keep a close eye on them?

Further, assuming I am aware of cyber bullying currently taking place, what options are available to stop it from continuing (again, short of removing the children from social media entirely)?

Fair credit, this question came about due to another closed question posted earlier.

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As I noted in a previous question regarding young children and social media, many websites do not permit children under the age of 13 to hold accounts. COPPA compliance usually isn't worth the headache for general-audience social networks. –  Noah Jun 17 at 19:13
    
@ShashankSharma I specifically linked that question (which has been put on hold as off topic) - intentionally rewording the question based on comments regarding focusing on how to prevent issues as parents rather than as a child. This gives the question a better focus more suited to the site. –  Doc Jun 17 at 19:19
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@Noah That's great for children under 13. But cyber bullying takes place for children 13+ as well. –  Doc Jun 17 at 19:20
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@Noah Are you implying my answer would not be appropriate for tweens? I would consider my answer to start kicking in at around age 8 or 9, which is about the time kids these days are exploring social media. –  corsiKa Jun 17 at 19:28
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Considering that generally, social networks where cyber bullying commonly takes place disallow members under the age of 13, it renders the "tween"-specific aspect moot (though the advice is solid for all ages). However, if you do allow your children to misrepresent themselves to make an account on Facebook (for example), then you're really walking into problems face-first. –  Noah Jun 17 at 20:02

2 Answers 2

up vote 5 down vote accepted

You use the same approach you would use for just about any other "how to protect my children" question.

Step 1: educate yourself.

The first thing you have to do is educate yourself. What does your child do online, and where are the risks they're going to face? If you have a good relationship with your child, you can ask them about it directly. You can also use software to monitor the internet traffic, but that can cause honesty issues and might not be worth the investment. You then have to know who they're talking to online and why those interactions are taking place. For example, are they real-world tie-ins (like a study group that also has a chat room) or friends from another school, or just a replacement for our generation's hanging out at the mall?

Of utmost importance is to educate yourself in your child. By this, I mean reading her language and body language to know when there's a problem. Most kids think they're better at hiding these things than they really are, and you need to know how your child is feeling to protect them against any threat, of which cyber bulling is one of many.

Step 2: educate your child.

Your child must be aware of a wide variety of online threats - child predators, bank scammers, "Nigerian Princes". Their "friends" are just another avenue of real threats your child needs to be aware of to protect themselves against when they're online. And honestly, these people are in the "real world" too. Don't talk to strangers; don't hang around people who harass you; be confident in yourself and don't stand for destructive criticism. Do not let your child assume that because it's on the internet it isn't real: it is real. You have to protect your child not just from receiving cyber bullying, but also from dishing it out. They might not be aware that the actions they take on the internet will have real consequences on another child's fragile emotional structure. Again, no different than at school or at the park.

Step 3: build a trust stockpile.

There are about four hundred thousand ways for a child to disown their parents, and only a small handful of them include the internet. If you don't have a strong bond of trust with your child, you aren't going to be able to protect them from much of anything, including cyber bullying. There's no formula for doing this, as each child and parent are so different, but at the core I've found that consistency and honesty are the foundation of any trusting relationship. So start there.

These three steps (educate yourself, educate your child, build a trust stockpile) are a rough outline for solving a lot of the various "teenage unknowns", especially in territory where the world has changed so much since we were kids and we need to catch up.

I'd also like to leave you with a couple very strong *don't*s:

  • DO NOT simply cut off your child's internet access for fear of cyber bullying. This will most likely just incur more social stigma, and also create a lot of resentment.
  • DO NOT interrogate your child or make them feel like a victim. You might be trying to just get information, but if you seem too controlling you will lose a lot of trust.
  • DO NOT say one thing and do another. If you communicate directly with your child and say you won't be using monitoring software or time-limiting software, and you do anyway, you can throw the trust you might have built right out the window.
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Are we really still dispensing the "don't talk to strangers" advice? Most kidnappings happen by known people, and the negative effects on self confidence may outweigh the "not talking to someone will make them not kidnap you" chance. –  Konerak Jul 17 at 9:05
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"Don't talk to strangers" is a phrase with a whole heck of a lot of context behind it. It flows off the tongue better than "Be aware of the people around you, assess their potential threats quickly and quietly, be careful not to divulge too much personal information, ..." etc. The point of that sentence is not so much what the advice itself is - merely that the advice you give is no different just because it has "over the computer" attached to it. –  corsiKa Jul 17 at 16:42

Unfortunately a lot of the Internet is a 'Wild West' environment - you cannot completely prevent cyber bullying. That said, there are a number of options which can help. I'm guessing you are not a parent, but this topic is likely to be of interest to parents and children alike.

Facebook has a specific anti-cyber-bullying team that you can report incidents to. Every page gives you a direct link to them, and you have a link on every post to let you report or remove from your timeline. Some other social networks have similar functionality, but you have to remember that it is not always possible to identify the individuals doing the bullying. You say Cyber Bullying is illegal - that unfortunately is not always the case. Different countries have different regulations, laws and rules. So if you are being bullied from a country with no laws in this area, you are out of luck.

I guess where I'm going here is that trying to prevent bullying online can only ever be partially successful. So what else can you do?

  • Limit your Internet usage to those areas which are well policed
  • Limit your social network 'friends'
  • Understand your behaviour: does it make you more bully-able?

and if all else fails and you can't change things:

  • Ignore it: growing a thicker skin is always going to be useful
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Ignoring it is not good advice for bullying. Yes, it's the advice that has always been given, but it's been shown that it's not good advice: csmonitor.com/Commentary/Opinion/2010/1012/… –  DA01 Jun 17 at 19:22
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I agree in most cases, however in the specific instance of bullying online where bullies may be outwith any possible action, you don't have many options. And in my example it was definitely the right option in so many ways. –  Rory Alsop Jun 17 at 19:43
    
That's a fair point. Online, that advice may make more sense. –  DA01 Jun 17 at 19:50
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I'm inclined to agree. If there was a bad influence at school, I would want my kids to not hang out with that person. I think this is kind of the online equivalent of that. You'll still see it now and then, but there's not much they can do about it. In a perfect world, there's authorities who deal with the matter, but in the real world, we have to deal with things ourselves. Thankfully, our children don't have to deal with it alone. –  corsiKa Jun 17 at 19:59
    
I have updated to take into account comments and to clarify. Thanks DA01 –  Rory Alsop Jun 17 at 21:08

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