Bullying is always challenging to deal with as a parent. Add a cyber element into the mix and many are completely flummoxed.
A survey conducted by the National Association of Principals and Deputy Principals published recently found that parents are getting worse rather than better when it comes to monitoring children’s online behaviour.
Some 46% of parents said they check their children’s online presence once a week. This was down from 54% a year ago. Worryingly, a full 30% of parents surveyed said they check their child’s online activity infrequently or never.
As parents we have a responsibility to educate ourselves about our children’s online presence. This takes time and commitment but it is worth doing. You wouldn’t allow your child to go to an unsupervised disco or house party. Think of your child’s online presence in similar terms.
Educate yourself, as well as your child
The rules are simple. Educate yourself to the point where you can supervise your child’s online activity, but involve your child in your decisions and discussions about online activity at home. If your child sees that you are open and have an understanding about the issues it is possible that they will come to you if there is a problem.
We need to see cyberbullying as an extension of bullying. If we can get past the word cyber we may find it easier to know what to do. In days gone by, parents could monitor their children’s interactions. They knew who the friends were and any callers to the house had to go through whoever answered the phone.
The advent of the mobile phone, but particularly the smart phone, has complicated matters. In truth though, the same principles apply. Parents need to know what their children are up to. They need to monitor online activity and talk to their children.
Dealing with cyberbullying is more complicated but if you think about what you would tolerate in the real world, things can become clearer.
1. Talk about it
Talk to your children about cyberbullying. Make sure they know what it is. This is important so that they can identify it if it happens to them, but also so that they don’t bully others.
It’s also important to talk to them about the issues and problems posed by online anonymity.
2. Educate yourself
Ask your teenagers and children to show you how to play games online. Ask them to help you with social media. If they get to spend time online with you, you will get to know how things work but it will also open a conversation between you and your children.
3. Collaborate on guidelines
Don’t impose guidelines on internet use in the home. Talk to your children about what guidelines you should all adhere to and draw them up together.
4. Get on social media
Join the sites that your sons and daughters are using. Make sure that they friend you and keep an eye on their activity. Be upfront about the fact that you are doing this. Make sure you know their passwords. This is easier if you are active when your child begins their online activity
5. Make sure they know what’s safe and what’s not
Children should know never to share their passwords with anyone apart from you as their parent or guardian.
They must never post personal information.
They must never post or share inappropriate photos.
Encourage them not to be friends online with people they don’t know in the real world.
6. Make sure your own internet infrastructure is safe
Install child protection filters and anti-virus software on internet connected devices that are in your home or belong to your children.
7. Limit time spent online
There’s more to life than what’s online. The greater the online presence, the greater the effect of the cyberbully. Try and impose limits on the time your child spends online
8. Tell your children what to do if they are on the receiving end of abuse
They should know:
To save the abusive comment or image via the print screen function
To report any online abuse to a responsible adult
9. Teach them about respect
Rules around respecting others in the real world, apply to the online world. If you wouldn’t say something to someone’s face, don’t say it to their online profile.
10. Make sure your children have a healthy cynicism about online activity
Try to encourage critical thinking. Your children should know not to take things online at face value.
Brendan Smith is Education and Public Engagement Officer with the Insight Centre for Data Analytics. He delivers workshops and talks on internet safety among many other things to parents, teachers and students in primary and post primary schools.