What can you do to protect your children from cyberbullying? Experts typically recommend:
- Increased supervision of children by adults
- Informing school and legal authorities when cyberbullying is discovered
- Fighting for increasingly tough anti-bullying laws
These types of efforts may have benefits, but if you are depending upon them as the solution for your children, you are likely to be disappointed. It would be wonderful if we could solve social problems by simply passing laws, but bullying has proven to be an escalating problem despite passage of intensive “anti-bullying” laws. Informing authorities about other people’s children usually escalates hostilities because parents are likely to take their children’s side against your children, and their kids may end up hating your child for trying to get them in trouble. Many bullied children who have taken their lives did so after authorities got involved. And as much as you may try to, you can never fully supervise your children’s use of cell phones or computers. Furthermore, if you try to deprive them of all privacy, they will likely end up hating you for it!
If you truly wish to help your children avoid the pain of being cyberbullied, you need take a completely different approach toward the problem.
Would you give your children a car and let them drive without first learning how to use it properly and how to avoid the dangers of the road? Would you expect the police to protect kids from each other under these circumstances? Of course not! Yet that is exactly what we do with electronic communication. We give our children cell phones and internet access without training them of the dangers and expect adult authorities to protect them from each other!
If you truly want to help your children, I recommend the following.
- Don’t provide your children with cell phones or internet access unless you and other responsible adults you have authorized have taught them to use technology responsibly and to handle the potential dangers on their own. Otherwise, you should consider yourself partially responsible if anything bad happens to your children or for those they may harm.
- Explain to your children that if they are going to play with fire, they can get burned. Electronic communication is wonderful, but it also can be used against us. It is almost certain that at some point, nasty stuff will be said or posted about them and they need to be prepared for that reality. Forewarned is forearmed.
- The gravest danger presented by technology comes from adult predators who use the internet to entrap minors, which is serious criminal behavior. Instruct your children not to respond to anyone who wants to meet them. If you discover this type of activity is happening with your child, you MUST get authorities involved.
- Explain to your children that people have freedom of speech in democracies. The Constitution permits them to say negative things as long as their words don’t cause objective harm to people’s bodies, property or liberty. There is no reason to get upset when people exercise free speech against your child. Furthermore, freedom of speech is the solutionto verbal bullying. If you try to stop people from saying nasty things about you, they want to do it even more. If you let them express their opinions, they quickly lose interest.
- Many children believe that they must respond to everything written tothem or about However, it’s not recommended to respond at all to negative posts. It’s no fun to write nasty things about people who don’t respond. Ultimately, postings will fade away as kids look for more exciting things to focus on.
- If your child does want to respond to something nasty, it’s wisest to do it with humor. The safest way to do that is to make a joke about themselves. For example, if there is a posting, “Your mother is ugly!” your child can respond with, “If you think my motheris ugly, you should see my three-legged dog!”
- Many kids believe they must keep their cell phones on at all times. They’ll even interrupt special dinners with guests, public meetings or entertainment venues to respond to every call or text message. Explain to your children that people deserve the respect of our attention when we’re present with them. Basic etiquette says they should shut off cell phones and ignore calls and messages when they are in movies and in settings where they should be engaging with others. They won’t die if they don’t respond to technology for a few hours.
- It is very tempting to defend oneself when people say or write negative things about us. But this response is a trap. The defensive position is the losing position because people typically keep attacking those on the defense. Ask your child, “Do you believe all the nasty stuff that kids post online? Of course not. So, don’t feel you have to disprove what is posted about you. Most people won’t believe it anyway.”
- If a kid informs your child that they read or heard a nasty rumor about them, the best way to answer is with the question, “Do you believe it?” This question puts the child who asked on the defensive. If the child answers, “Yes,” your child should say, “You can believe it if you want.” If the child says, “No,” your child can say, “Good.” Either way, your child wins and the person spreading the rumor moves on.
- Sometimes the humiliating postings are about something true, and other kids know that it’s true or it is easily verifiable. Your child’s natural reaction may be to get angry and defensive, to want to stop going to school – or worse – to avoid the humiliation. However, no one is going to respect your child for reacting this way, nor will they stop believing the posting. Other kids will respect your child much more if they acknowledge the truth of the posting maturely, saying things like, “Yes, what I did/what happened to me was terrible,” or “I can’t believe I did that. What was I thinking?” Eventually, kids will stop talking about the humiliating matter when they find new titillating stories to talk about.
- There’s an old saying, “Bad publicity is better than no publicity.” Ask your children if they have ever noticed magazines at the supermarket checkout counters or TV shows about celebrities. They are full of juicy, humiliating tidbits that are often true! How can the celebrities stand it? It’s because the nasty stuff keeps them famous. So, tell your kids that they’re getting free publicity. And remind them that other kids are not going to believe the nasty stuff they read about them just because it is posted in cyberspace. After all, Facebook and Twitter aren’t exactly The New York Times.
- If your child is experiencing cyberbullying, there is a good chance that it’s happening because they feelyour child hurt or offended them in some way. They feel like it’s reasonable for them to get revenge. In fact, if kids are angry with your child, it’s an indication that they feel targeted. So, have your child ask them, “Are you mad at me?” or “Did I upset you?” If they answer, “Yes,” your child can discuss the matter and try to resolve it with them, apologizing if necessary. If they answer, “No,” they may realize they have no good reason to be mean and will stop. And if they still don’t stop, let them continue. Eventually kindness will win, and they will.
- Finally, your children need to realize that if they want others to be nice to them, theyneed to be nice first. If they go around saying or writing bad stuff about other kids, even if it’s in response to others’ nastiness, they cannot expect kids to be nice back to them. But teaching your kids always treat others like friends is the best insurance against others being abusive to them.
Teach your kids these rules and you will help them for a lifetime, not only in their interactions in cyberspace but in their interpersonal relationships as well.
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