Cyberbullying is a pervasive issue in contemporary society and has, therefore, become a hot topic of conversation amongst parents. During discussions on how to prevent cyberbullying, parents frequently remark that the most obvious solution to this technological tyranny is for children to simply “switch their devices off” and actually live life; an ideal based on their own childhoods which were Internet free.
While, to some degree, this might seem like the perfect way to prevent cyberbullying, parents need to consider whether this is actually a viable solution to an increasingly prevalent problem; and also take the time to understand the implications of rejecting digital life as a legitimate part of their child’s real life.
Limiting screen time is indisputably important, as made evident by increasing rates of digital addiction. Parents do need to establish parameters around when a child can freely access their electronic devices, so as to ensure that time spent on social media, messaging, or gaming apps does not infringe on homework, physical activity, or sleep. But entirely forbidding access to electronic devices may not be the air-tight solution many parents think it is. In fact, as we continue to add to a collective understanding of the relatively new phenomenon of cyberbullying, increasing amounts of evidence suggest that the key to cyberbullying prevention lies in changing parental attitudes toward new media platforms; so as to establish a unified approach to cyber safety that is embedded in education.
A pattern we often see when parents reject an unwanted reality is that they fail to adequately prepare their children for the reality that they live in. Parents struggle with the notion that their children’s lives appear to be so submerged in a digital world because – to them – it seems like a new-age-novelty, but the actuality is that the Internet is where children gather to socialise, learn, explore, and play. Eventually, it will also be a space they use for their tertiary education and, most likely, their career. So, while there is no direct substitute for fresh air and face-to-face interaction, prohibiting access to electronic devices can make children feel ostracized, and it can be detrimental to their development of digital resilience.
Furthermore, while many people see cyberbullying as a separate issue to conventional bullying, it’s important to understand that the two are closely related. Cyberbullying is not a unique occurrence itself, but rather an extension of face-to-face bullying; we often see children who are bullied at school being bullied online and children who bully at school bullying online.
The best advice we can give to parents about how to prevent cyberbullying is to stop seeing the prohibition of electronic devices as anything more than a Band-Aid fix. Accessing the Internet is inevitable, so withholding it under the guise of protection is scarcely any different from countering conventional bullying by forbidding your child from leaving the house.
How To Stop Cyber Bullying Before It Starts
“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” This age-old rhyme was originally intended to encourage resilience in the face of name calling, but can desensitising children to the gravity of words actually do more harm than good? Creating the impression that words aren’t capable of causing harm is both incorrect and potentially dangerous, as it can lead to a decreased sense of accountability. While being resilient will benefit any child, being tactful, empathetic, and kind will benefit every child.
Cyberbullying is not an elusive threat that we can simply hide our children from, but rather it is a threat that is perpetrated and perpetuated by children. Therefore, the most effective way to combat cyberbullying is to educate children on safe and responsible online behaviour. This can be challenging because children who instigate or partake in online bullying are seldom aware of the repercussions that their online actions can have for other children. This is largely because screens lack empathy, which is a key component of healthy communication, and because not being able to see the person with whom you are interacting can lead to feeling uninhibited. The screen acts as a shield of anonymity and detaches you from the gravity of your actions. This can be dangerously empowering to those who seek to hurt, belittle or embarrass others.
Cyberbullying prevention is a community-wide commitment, but it starts in the household. Therefore, every parent of a young child or teenager should make an effort to:
– Set a good example of online behaviour
– Teach their child about safe and responsible use of technology from when that child first starts using it
– Understand where their child spends their time while they’re online
– Help their child to be internet brave, and develop a strong moral compass
– Educate their child on what to do if they witness someone being bullied online
– Encourage their child to be forthcoming if they partake in cyberbullying themselves
– Explain the importance of maintaining privacy online; and tell their child what can happen if someone gets a hold of their personal information or explicit images, and,
– Teach their child effective communication and conflict management skills
Parents should also try to take an active interest in what their children are doing online, instead of dismissing it as wasted time. By establishing appropriate parameters around household internet and electronic device use, parents can create safe environments within which children can:
Practice Netiquette: as with any undertaking in a child’s life, continuous practice will guide their learning. Allowing your child to practice using the Internet within safe parameters will ensure that they develop online proficiency, which is a vital skill in this digital age.
Develop Competency: being competent online will help children to feel empowered – and empowered Internet users contribute to the space constructively. Online competency is the best way to guarantee your child is protected from online threats.
Establish Agency: Through the freedom and ability to act, children will be able to influence positive change within the online world
It is only through fostering a culture of online awareness, empowerment, and tolerance, that we can hope to combat cyberbullying and ultimately raise a generation of children who stand up to adversity, instead of standing by.
Wangle Family Insites is the new face of child protection software. Our vision is to help prevent cyberbullying by using real-time analysis of app use, live risk detection alerts, industry expertise, and relevant educational resources.