Growing up today isn’t like what it was ten or twenty years ago. The proliferation of the internet has changed our lives in so many ways it is hard to even explain to our kids what it used to be like. All of our knowledge of the world used to come from television, the library and what we learned at school. These days a couple of quick mouse clicks can show you news reports from across the world, YouTube provides millions of videos with barely any age controls whatsoever, and the social networks mean our lives are more public than ever before. While many of these developments add a great deal to our culture and help engender a global community, they have also given life to a whole new danger for our kids: online bullying.
Cyberbullying can be just as devastating as physical bullying in school, with the added danger of massive visibility. Bullies always make you miserable, but the only people that would know about it are whoever happened to be in the hall or the locker room at that moment. A cyberbully can humiliate you in front of the whole world. It’s incredibly traumatic, and has actually led to teenagers taking their own lives. To protect your children from this fate, you must talk to them about how to deal with online bullying.
First of all, talk to your kids as early as possible about this danger. If your child is old enough to use the internet on her own, she’s old enough to be at risk. The majority of online bullying instances occur when kids are between eight and fifteen-years-old. It’s better to be too early than too late, so sit them down as soon as they start using the internet on a regular basis. And make sure they know that they should get an adult involved at the very first instance. Your child may be concerned that the harassment would increase if she tells a parent or teacher. But kids are not always equipped to recognize the difference between basic harmless bullying and something that requires calling the police.
She should also know not to react publicly at first. Together, the two of you can sit down and come up with a response. But most bullies want to see that they are making you miserable, so if your child lashes out openly when she is emotionally raw, that will only fuel the online bully’s fire. Although it can feel like the end of the world, online bullying comes with no threat of physical harm. So the first thing your child should do is just walk away. Take some deep breaths, step away from the computer and do something else for a while.
While you will need to help your kids deal with the emotional abuse caused by the online bully, you should first help them with the practical steps to stop it cold. You should block any social media pages that have been compromised or emails that are being spammed. Change all passwords, and even close accounts if the bullying continues. You can always open a new email account. If it remains a problem, pick up a software bundle that can monitor internet attacks and track down their location.
Finally, make sure you help your child deal with the emotional stress. Internet defamation can be incredibly damaging, and you can’t expect it to just go away even after you’ve taken the physical steps. Let her air out her feelings, and be there to give all the hugs and reassuring words she needs. It will take some time, but as long as you address the problem head on and talk about it often, your kids will survive online bullying with very few issues.