How to Protect Your Kid From Cyberbullying This School Year

Respond to your children without judgment so that if they need help, they feel safe coming to you for aid
Respond to your children without judgment so that if they need help, they feel safe coming to you for aid

By- Lisa Frank

When COVID-19 hit, teachers and students got a crash course in video conferencing apps and remote learning. While many schools are now transitioning away from the remote format, technology and education have nonetheless become inseparable. Interaction with others via the internet is now a fact of life both in school and outside of it.

While much of that interaction is healthy, some of it is not. School officials can help stop bullying when it happens in person, but they may not know when it occurs digitally. That leaves parents as the first line of defence against cyberbullying. This year, take some precautions to help protect your kid from this hurtful practise and show them how to interact safely online.

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1. Regulate Their Access to Social Media

To protect your child from cyberbullying, your first instinct might be to bar them from the place it so commonly occurs — social media. Your daughter won't fall victim to the Snapchat equivalent of a hit and run if she's not on the platform, right? And your son won't receive nasty comments on his Youtube videos if you don't let him post any — case closed.

Not so fast, Mom and Dad. It would be unrealistic to totally ban your child from social media — it's just too prevalent. You might be surprised how often even schools will use it to keep in touch with their students. Instead of prohibiting access altogether, set up certain times and situations in which they are allowed to get on social media. That way, if cyberbullies show up, you can help your kid defuse the situation and salve any psychic wounds.

You could allow 30 minutes right after school to look at TikTok while in the living room with you, for example. Or they can catch up on their friends' Instagram stories on their tablets. This routine will be both something to look forward to and easy activity to help them transition from their school day.

Of course, there will be times your child won't have supervision, such as when they are hanging out with friends or away from home. For these excursions, a cell phone for kids is perfect for limiting social media access while allowing you to keep in touch. Using a limited device, they won't encounter harmful people online in a place they feel unsafe.

2. Set Rules for What They Can Do Online

Popular social media platforms may be integral to modern communication, but there are many lesser-known ones with less stringent rules. These include forums like Reddit and 4chan, which at best can be time-wasters and at worst can invite cyberbullying.

If you're looking to minimize your child's attachment to the internet, then it is best to bar access to such sites. It is far more likely that they'll interact with bad actors in communities with such large, diverse reservoirs of content.

Even if your kid is allowed to go on certain websites, there are actions that they should always avoid without permission. These include messaging strangers, sharing personal information, and making purchases, to name just a few. Cyberbullying can move from the virtual world to the real one when a bully knows your home address. Impress upon your child how important it is to keep personal information private.

3. Be a Source of Comfort and Trust

Respond to your children without judgment so that if they need help, they feel safe coming to you for aidUnsplash

No matter how much you regulate your kid's internet activity, you want to make sure that they understand why. It's important that they don't feel punished or belittled as you strive to protect them. The best way to do this is by being open with your child: The internet can be dangerous at times. They haven't done anything wrong, but you just want to make sure they aren't put in harm's way.

Provide them with a space to air their opinions respectfully even if they disagree with your decisions. If they beg for a Snapchat account and then run into their school's mean girls, resist the urge to say, "I told you so." Respond without judgment so that if they need help, they can feel safe coming to you for aid. A healthy foundation of trust relies on your respect for their needs and vice versa.

Having this support system can mean the difference between their feeling powerless or protected during a harmful interaction. They'll always be sure that you are in their corner should a cyberbully strike. And if one does, it will present an opportunity to discuss rules, their necessities, and their objectives.

4. Explain Appropriate Internet Etiquette

While your primary goal is to protect your kid from cyberbullying, as a parent it's also your job to ensure they aren't bullying others. Cyberbullying takes many different forms, and because of this, it's important to teach your child internet etiquette.

Without someone's face in front of us, it is easier to say things to people that we wouldn't in person. Remind them that behind every profile, there is a real person. They may be tempted to join in on an internet pile-on — especially when the "cool kids" at school are doing it. Encourage them to step away (or better yet, come to the other student's defence) in such situations. If your child understands the effect harsh words can have on a person, they'll be more likely to do the right thing.

On the flip side, teach them it's OK to brush the occasional negative comment aside. It is also worth discussing the importance of context — the unemotive nature of text communication can sometimes breed misunderstanding. A simple comment giving someone a suggestion might be interpreted as hostile due to the absence of verbal inflection. While they shouldn't downplay genuinely hurtful language, they shouldn't be quick to take offence, either.

Parting Thoughts

Most social media platforms have implemented anti-bullying features aimed at giving users a sense of control and self-protection. Instruct your child on how to use these tools to curate and preserve their online experience. This includes unfriending, unfollowing, blocking, reporting, hiding, and restricting undesirable accounts and posts when they encounter something that bothers them.

If your kid can't find a solution on their own, even with these tools at their disposal, that doesn't mean they're out of luck. After all, you've already given them the assurance that they can always ask for your help. By familiarizing them with solutions and managing their usage, you'll be better able to keep your child safe from online bullies this school year.

Disclaimer: (This article is sponsored and includes some commercial links)

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