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Sharing embarrassing photos is a form of cyberbullying

An independent study from the Cyberbullying Research Center estimates that 5.4 million students skip school in the US at some point in the year due to bullying. The news is filled with stories about bullied kids who become suicidal, violent, or sick.

Acts of cyberbullying and other electronic aggression have caused a great deal of suffering that can and must be prevented. Our job as parents, educators, and other caring adults is to teach the young people in our care how to be a good digital citizen and to insist that they demonstrate an ongoing commitment to using technology wisely and safely.

The following 10 tips can help to keep kids safe:

Tip #1: Discuss what cyberbullying is and the harm it does with older children and teens

Ask kids who are actively using technology for communication what they already know about cyber-bullying. They usually have a lot of information and strong ideas.  Ask if this has ever happened to them or anyone they know.

Make sure that the young people in your life know that:

  • Cyber-bullying means using computers, mobile phones, or other technology to hurt, scare, or embarrass other people. Cyber-bullying gets people in serious trouble at school and also with the law. In a growing number of places, certain forms of cyber-bullying are illegal.
  • Being mean is being mean, no matter how you do it. Don’t ask if it’s funny. Ask if it will make someone unhappy.
  • Even if you think someone was mean to you, being mean back is not a safe way to handle the problem. Instead, get help from an adult you trust.
  • Have the courage to speak up if you notice anyone cyber-bullying. Say that this is wrong and that you are not going to keep it a secret.
  • Use privacy settings, but never post anything in social medial or send anything out electronically that you don’t want the world to see.
  • If you get an upsetting message or see something that is attacking you: Do not reply. Do not delete. Save the message, get a screen shot, print it if you can and get help from an adult you trust. If one adult does not help you, keep asking until you get the help you need.

Tip #2: Be clear about the rules for using technology

Ask kids who are actively using technology for communication what they already know about cyber-bullying. They usually have a lot of information and strong ideas.  Ask if this has ever happened to them or anyone they know.

Make sure that the young people in your life know that:

  • Cyber-bullying means using computers, mobile phones, or other technology to hurt, scare, or embarrass other people. Cyber-bullying gets people in serious trouble at school and also with the law. In a growing number of places, certain forms of cyber-bullying are illegal.
  • Being mean is being mean, no matter how you do it. Don’t ask if it’s funny. Ask if it will make someone unhappy.
  • Even if you think someone was mean to you, being mean back is not a safe way to handle the problem. Instead, get help from an adult you trust.
  • Have the courage to speak up if you notice anyone cyber-bullying. Say that this is wrong and that you are not going to keep it a secret.
  • Use privacy settings, but never post anything in social medial or send anything out electronically that you don’t want the world to see.
  • If you get an upsetting message or see something that is attacking you: Do not reply. Do not delete. Save the message, get a screen shot, print it if you can and get help from an adult you trust. If one adult does not help you, keep asking until you get the help you need.

Tip #3: Stay aware of and involved with what your child is doing

Spend time with your children and teens so that you know what they are doing. Explain that their activities on text messages, social media such as Facebook, email, chat groups, and use of computers can easily become public to the world and insist that these activities be public to you as well. If you don’t understand exactly what your child is doing with technology, then have this young person teach you by leading the way and letting you be a co-pilot. If you are busy with technology yourself, remember to stop what you are doing and pay attention to your kids! Otherwise, you can be sitting side by side, each looking at your own smart phones or computers, and not notice what your child is seeing or writing.

Tip #4: Be careful about the use of personal information

Use privacy settings but don’t count on them. Remember that anything shared electronically with anyone can be shared publicly by anyone you send it to. Unless this is within a secure system of people who know each other, such as a school, avoid allowing children to post personal information or photos in an on-line friend’s community, chat group,or anywhere else.

Tip #5: Give consequences if kids cyber-bully

If young people in your life do something hurtful to another person either online or in person, have them apologize and make amends. Figure out what actions they took to create the problem, and coach through a practice of making safer choices instead. Often, loss of the privilege to use the technology involved for a specific period of time is the most appropriate consequence. In addition, have kids do something active such as mail a handwritten letter of apology, do some research about the harm done by cyber-bullying and write a paper, or do some volunteer work to make our world a better place.

Tip #6: Provide support if a child is cyber-bullied

The anonymous nature and widespread distribution of cyber-bullying can be devastating. If your child is facing cyber-bullying, provide emotional support by saying, “I am so sorry this is happening to you and so proud of you for having the courage to tell me. This is not your fault and we are going to do what we can to make it stop.” Ask for action to correct the problem from school authorities, your Internet provider or mobile phone company, the social media company such as Facebook, and, if necessary, the police. If your child seems traumatized by what happened, review 5 Recommendations to Help a Child Recover From Severe Bullying.

Tip #7: Practice how to speak up to stop cyber-bullying

After kids understand what cyber-bullying might look like, practice how to speak up. Identify possible negative reactions from the other person. Then, practice respectful, powerful responses to persist in setting the boundary. Let youth make up their own story about the situation to use for the practice. Switch roles with them.

For example, a friend might say, “I can’t stand Roger. Look, I got a photo of him going to the bathroom on the field trip. Let’s see how many people we can send this to.”

One way to speak up could be: “That’s cyber-bullying. It’s wrong.”

A common negative reaction to this boundary is, “But you have to admit that it would be funny.”

An effective response might be, “Even though Roger is not my favorite person, I don’t think it is funny to embarrass people. Besides, it is illegal.”

Tip #8: Teach kids to get adult help anytime they see unsafe behavior online, while texting, or in person.

Young people can have a huge impact and be safer themselves if they know that any unsafe behavior on the Internet is an important time to get adult help.  One of our Kidpower Teens, “Laura”,  asked her mother for help because an online “friend” in a chat group was writing despairing comments about life not being worth living.  With her mother’s guidance, Laura told this girl that feeling this was was not safe and encouraged her to call the Suicide Prevention Hotline. The next day the girl wrote to Laura that she had talked to a counselor there for a very long time. Although she didn’t have clear answers yet, this girl was on the path to getting the kind of help she needed. See Suicide Prevention Success Story: The Opposite of Cyber-Bullying.

Tip #9: Make a commitment with young people to be good digital citizens

At Kidpower, we recommend that responsible adults say clearly to the children and teens in their care: “You have the right to be treated with safety and respect everywhere and with everyone – and you have the responsibility to act safely and respectfully towards yourself and others. This includes being a good digital citizen in all activities using technology such as computers and smart phones to interact through social media, gaming, texting, etc.”

State your values and expectations clearly. Treat the use of computers for anything except schoolwork as a privilege, not a right. Treat the use of mobile phones for anything except for emergencies and communication with responsible adults as a privilege rather than a right. For children and teens, the responsibility that goes with the right to use technology independently is to stay in charge of what they say and do, to tell you about problems, and to get your agreement in advance about any changes. We recommend a written digital citizenship and technology use contract that kids sign with their parents and that can be updated each year. Learn more about our Digital Citizenship Safety Agreement.

Tip #10: Set a good example.

Remember that the actions of young people’s close adults have a powerful influence on what they will do. As one teacher told me, “At our small private school, parents were gossiping, online and offline, about the troubles of one family. It is not surprising that their children started posting insults about a boy in that family who was having a hard time.”

Let the children and teens in your life see you choosing to stay respectful even when you are upset. Let them see you reaching out to communicate in person directly and respectfully with someone with whom you have a problem rather than complaining behind this individual’s back. Or, if this doesn’t work, going in person to someone who is in a position to do something about the issue. Let them see you state disagreements objectively and politely, without name-calling or sarcasm. Let them see you choosing NOT to “like” or share a post or photo that is hurtful or disrespectful, even if it seems amusing. If you make a mistake, let them see you saying so – and showing how you are going to make amends.

State your disapproval when people in positions of power and prestige act in harmful or disrespectful ways, even if you appreciate their winning a game, enjoy their music or films, or agree with their politics. Model balance by turning your technology off and doing something together out in nature or with other people without being connected electronically.

Adult Leadership in Taking Action to Stop Bullying

Bullying: What Adults Need to Know and Do to Keep Kids Safe is used by many families, schools, and youth organizations

Stopping bullying requires that the adults in charge: stay aware, set a good example, intervene to stop unsafe or disrespectful behavior, and teach personal safety skills to the young people in their lives. Make your expectations clear by discussing this Kidpower Safety Message: “You have the right to be safe and respected – and the responsibility to act safety and respectfully towards others. If you have a problem, I want to know!” Make sure kids know they can count on you for help by discussing the Kidpower Protection Promise.

More Bullying Resources from Kidpower!

To learn more about how to take action and teach these skills, please visit our Kidpower Bullying Solutions Resources page. For services to schools, please visit our Kidpower Resources and Services for Schools page.

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Published: March 9, 2012   |   Last Updated: October 17, 2017

Kidpower Founder and Executive Irene van der Zande is a master at teaching safety through stories and practices and at inspiring others to do the same. Her child protection and personal safety expertise has been featured by USA Today, CNN, Today Moms, the LA Times, and The Wall Street Journal. Publications include: cartoon-illustrated Kidpower Safety Comics and Kidpower Teaching Books curriculum; Bullying: What Adults Need to Know and Do to Keep Kids Safe; the Relationship Safety Skills Handbook for Teens and Adults; Earliest Teachable Moment: Personal Safety for Babies, Toddlers, and Preschoolers; and The Kidpower Book for Caring Adults: Personal Safety, Self-Protection, Confidence, and Advocacy for Young People.

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