Far from the playground
Educate your kids and yourself about cyberbullying
Stories of kids beating other kids up, stealing lunch money and making fun of each other on the playground have been around forever. Many of us can remember being bullied or made fun of by classmates.
Prior to the internet and cell phone, we could go home, disconnect, and have some downtime. We could choose to answer the phone; we could make sure that we had no contact with the negative situations or individuals from our day. It made it easier to weather the storms and rise above the bullying behavior.
But that has all changed. The internet and smartphones have given rise to the 24/7 generation. Kids are constantly posting about their activities, friends, or numerous selfies throughout any given day. This constant barrage of photos, texts and messages has made it almost impossible to disconnect from their world or peers.
Making it even more of a challenge, much of the content that is posted by kids these days is being brutally reviewed by their peers and many kids measure their self-worth through the number of likes they get on a post. In addition, kids often look at their peers’ tweets, Instagram stories or posts, wishing they could be with them or feeling left out. Kids (and adults) use the digital world to say things they wouldn’t say to someone in person.
Because of this, bullying has taken on a whole new life, often leaving kids devastated, isolated rejected or thinking about or engaging in self-harming behavior. Unfortunately, some youth have been so impacted, they have chosen to either attempt to take their life or have succeeded in doing so.
Beyond the general notion of bullying online, behaviors such as sexting, posting provocative pictures or sending “Snaps” that kids think are easily removed increases the realm of cyberbullying and can be the root cause of horrible social incidents. Kids naively post pictures thinking they are private, and learn within hours that they have gone viral — leading to embarrassment and shame.
How can we help our children navigate the online world and cyberbullying? It starts at home and it starts with communication.
1. When introducing your child to their first smartphone or internet forum, talk to them about cyberbullying. Communicate with them about what happens when kids are mean to others.
2. Based on age, monitor your child’s online usage. As they get older and trust has been built through maturity and communication, you can monitor less.
3. Give them information on how kids use online sites and apps to bully others.
4. Introduce them to the common terms such as sexting and cyberbullying.
5. Be specific about posting pictures. Let your kids know what is acceptable and what is not. Let them know what the consequences are for posting such pictures.
6. Let them know they can talk to you at any time to report concerns or to talk through their feelings about something happening to them.
7. Educate yourself about cyberbullying.
8. Support your child when they talk about being bullied. It is real and can be very painful. It is no longer the bullying from years ago.
Tracey Tucker is Executive Director of New Heights: Adventures for Teens and a licensed mental health counselor at Tradeport Counseling Associates in Portsmouth.