We want our children to grow into happy, healthy, and confident individuals eager to explore the world and build relationships with others.
For today’s children a big part of that development for today’s children happens through technology. However, technology has also made our children vulnerable to cyberbullying, a form of bullying that takes place online.
Due to increased access to the internet at home and various devices like smartphones, tablets, and computers, cyberbullying has been on the rise. Children are also using social media from a much younger age. With recent lockdowns trapping us indoors, screens have been the primary source of entertainment, education, and connection to the world.
As parents, we can help our children stay safe on social media and other sites and apps. Although cyberbullying can happen to anyone, children are susceptible to its harmful effects.
RECOGNISE THE COMMON FORMS OF CYBERBULLYING
Understanding how cyberbullies work can help us recognize and deal with the problem. There are some common tactics a bully may employ.
- Harassment: Persistently sending malicious messages to a person to offend, hurt, or threaten them. Perpetrators may even use fake profiles to stay anonymous.
- Cyberstalking, a form of harassment, involves a bully persistently following their victim online to observe or gather personal information for nefarious purposes. It can escalate to physical stalking.
- Exclusion: Deliberately leaving someone out of a group, event, or online conversation, making the victim feel rejected and isolated.
- Denigration: Spreading cruel rumors and gossip to damage someone’s reputation or ruin friendships.
- Impersonation: Pretending to be a person and sending messages or posting on their behalf to tarnish their reputation, damage relationships, or get them into trouble. A bully can accomplish this by hacking the victim’s account or creating a fake account in their name.
- Trickery: Tricking the victim into believing they are speaking to a friend to obtain private information that can be used against them.
- Outing goes hand in hand with trickery. It refers to sharing the victim’s private information, secrets, photos, etc., online without their consent to embarrass or humiliate them.
- Flaming: A bully initiates or escalates online fights. Usually, it involves harsh and vulgar language directed toward a person to provoke a reaction.
One research on media uses among children aged three to 17 showed that bullying occurs most commonly via text or messaging apps like Whatsapp, followed closely by social media, such as TikTok, Snapchat, and Youtube. Bullying also happens often in online forums, chat rooms, and through online gaming.
SO WHAT CAN PARENTS DO?
Take an interest in your child’s technology and online lives. Let them show you what they like and learn how to use it yourself. Check how appropriate an app or a website is for them and set high privacy settings.
Establish rules and boundaries for digital behavior and help your child understand their importance. Urge them not to share important personal information or passwords online and to be careful about what they post. Learn about setting parental controls and exerting control when necessary.
Most importantly, maintain open communication to make your child feel supported at home.
If cyberbullying occurs, stay calm. Talk with your child, document the bullying, block the bully, and report. Sometimes children hide that they are being bullied. Changes in their behavior and mood, like sleeping difficulties or nervousness, can signal that something is wrong.
Bullying is no longer restricted to the physical world only. While technology has many advantages, cyberbullying is one of its downsides. But, we can do a lot to prevent it. Communication and setting ground rules go a long way. And in case it does happen, being aware of the tactics bullies use empowers us to notice cyberbullying and take appropriate action quickly.