Ideas on preventing and responding to cyberbullying

By Sherri Gordon
Bullying Expert

Bullying is not a new phenomenon. But with technological advances, bullies now have more tools at their disposal. As a result, a new type of bullying has emerged – cyberbullying.

With cyberbullying, a bully can harass a victim with much less risk of being caught. What’s more, bullies will say things they may not say in person because they feel insulated and detached from the situation. As a result, online bullying can be mean and cruel leaving deep and lasting effects on the victims.

Therefore, it’s important for parents not only to learn how to keep kids safe online, but also learn how to respond to cyberbullying incidents. Listed below are three important steps to addressing cyberbullying.

1. Establish online rules with your kids.

  • Make sure your kids know how to protect their online identity. They should not give out personal information like their birthday, their school, their phone number or their address.
  • Stress online safety. Tell your kids to keep their passwords private. The only people who should know their passwords are their parents. Even sharing with friends is off limits.
  • Be sure your kids know not to respond to mean or threatening messages. Instead, they should show the messages to you. (Don’t delete the message because you may need it as evidence of the harassment.)
  • Make sure your kids know not to open emails from someone they don’t know or someone they know is a bully. Instead, encourage them to show the emails to you.
  • Remind kids not to put anything online they wouldn’t want their friends, their teachers, their parents or their grandparents to see.
  • Encourage kids to think before they post. Tell them to ask themselves how they would feel if they were on the receiving end of the post or the message.
  • Tell kids not to send messages or post comments when they’re angry.
  • Stress that you expect your kids to be polite online.
  • Tell them not to join, comment on or participate in negative or hurtful conversations.
  • Establish consequences for impolite or bullying behavior if it occurs.

2. Get involved in your kids’ online worlds.

  • Keep your home computer in a busy area of your home or encourage kids to use their laptops and tablets where the rest of the family is hanging out.
  • Discourage kids from being online alone in their rooms.
  • Establish a time limit for being online and then keep to your guidelines. Remember, allowing kids to use chat features or instant messaging is the same as inviting someone into your home. Some parents only allow chatting and messaging when they’re at home.
  • Help your kids set up their online accounts like email and instant messaging.
  • Make sure you know their screen names and passwords and that they don’t include any personal information in their online profiles.
  • Become “friends” with your children on their social networking sites.
  • Go over your kids’ buddy lists and ask how your kids know each person.
  • Show your kids how to delete comments they don’t want on their social networking pages.
  • Make sure your kids know that it’s okay not to “friend” everyone who asks to be a friend.
  • Discuss the methods that cyberbullies use and ask your kids if they have ever experienced cyberbullying or if they have seen it happen to someone else.
  • Know the warning signs that your child is being bullied and don’t be afraid to ask questions if you suspect something is amiss.
  • Emphasize that you won’t take away their computer privileges if they share cyberbullying incidents with you. (Fear of losing computer privileges is the primary reason kids don’t talk to their parents about cyberbullying when it happens.)

3. Respond immediately to cyberbullying when it happens.

  • Talk to your children about the cyberbullying they experienced and listen to their feelings without judging or shaming them. Be sure they know that cyberbullying is not their fault.
  • Close the doors of communication on the cyberbully by cancelling current social networking and email accounts and open new accounts. Change your child’s cell phone number and get an unlisted number.
  • Make sure your child knows to share this new information with a smaller group of friends.
  • Show your children how to block the cyberbully from their social networking sites and from their cell phones.
  • Don’t respond in any way to the cyberbully. Instead, print and keep copies of all the harassment. Try to save all messages, comments and posts as evidence.
  • Report the cyberbullying to your Internet Service Provider (ISP) if the incidents are happening at home. Be sure to forward the email. If the bullying occurred on a social networking site, be sure to report it to them as well.
  • Report the cyberbullying to the school, if the incident took place at school. Include a copy of the email or other correspondence for the school files. If the school is unable or unwilling to respond, consider contacting the police to file a report.
  • Contact the police if the cyberbullying includes death threats or threats of physical violence. You should also report any harassment that continues over an extended period of time as well as any correspondence that encourages your child to commit suicide. The police will address all of these incidents.
  • Take anonymous cyberbullying seriously and report it to the police as well. Many times, the police can track down who is sending the emails.
  • Help your child overcome the bullying and pursue counseling if you notice changes in your child’s mood or behavior as a result of the cyberbullying.
  • Remember, your child does not have to put up with cyberbullying. Many times, cyberbullying will leave a clear trail of evidence that if reported to the appropriate authorities can go a long way in putting an end to the bullying.

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