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 seven steps for preventing and stopping cyberbullying are from Kidpower’s bullying solutions book, Bullying – What Adults Need to Know and Do to Keep Kids Safe.
1) Discuss the problems caused by cyberbullying and other electronic aggression
Ask kids who are actively using technology for communication or entertainment what they already know about cyberbullying. They usually have a lot of information and strong ideas. Ask if this has ever happened to them or anyone they know. Look for examples in the media and discuss the harm done by different kinds of electronic aggression.
Here’s what young people need to know:
• Cyberbullying means using computers, mobile phones, social media, or other technology to hurt, scare, harass, or embarrass other people, whether you know them or not.
• Cyberbullying gets people in serious trouble at school and also with the law. In a growing number of places, certain forms of cyberbullying are illegal.
• Being mean is being mean, no matter how you do it – whether it happens in person, online, in social media, by texting, or in gaming environments. Don’t ask if it’s funny. Ask if it will be harmful to someone.
• 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 cyberbullying. 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 media 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.
2) 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.
3) Stay aware of and involved with what your kids are doing
Spend time with your children and teens both online and everywhere else. Make sure that you are doing lots of real-world activities. Explain that any text messages, social media, 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.
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, Instagram, Facebook, or anywhere else.
5) Give consequences if kids cyberbully
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 mistakes they made that led up to the problem, and coach them 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 to make amends such as mail a handwritten letter of apology, do some research about the harm done by cyberbullying and write a paper, or do some volunteer work to make our world a better place.
6) Provide support if a child is cyberbullied
The anonymous nature and widespread distribution of cyberbullying can be devastating. If a young person in your care is facing cyberbullying, 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.” Demand 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.
7) Teach kids skills for staying safe online and everywhere else
Kidpower social safety skills for staying safe with and around people are relevant both online and in real world situations. Young people are far less likely to have problems with cyberbullying if they have practiced how to stay aware, recognize what is and is not safe, move away from trouble, protect their feelings, stay in charge of what they say and do no matter how they feel inside, set clear and appropriate boundaries, and be persistent in getting help from busy adults. To learn more, see our article Kidpower Strategies for Safety Online and Everywhere Else.