I recently heard that the main reason kids do not report cyberbullying is the fear that the technologies that they love will be taken away. This really resonated with me. The one time we encountered cyberbullying with my son, he was very concerned that he would lose access to the computer, and more specifically his ability to chat via instant message. He also felt he could handle the problem alone.
My son was 17 and at the time we owned one family computer that the kids were allowed to use. My kids had a strict time limit for playing video games and since we use McAfee® Family Protection software, they knew that once their hour was up, that was it. So when my 17-year old walked away from the computer before his time was up, I knew something was amiss. When I asked him what was going on, he was extremely agitated. We had to force him to stay in the room with us and tell us what was going on. He had just started dating his girlfriend and her ex was threatening him over email and chat. He felt because he had engaged with this guy, he somehow had to resolve the situation.
We had to remind him that he did not deserve to be treated this way. We also had to remind him to block the guy and to ignore any further attempts to engage him in conversation online. We were very lucky that the bully in this case no longer lived in our state. That ended the incident, but as a parent it hit home with me that I needed to continually educate my kids about cyberbullying.
I believe that the conversation about cyberbullying should happen with kids long before the bullying starts. This conversation happens in my home every time there is a story in the news about cyberbullying. This is a great time to connect with your kids and ask them some questions. Do they know anyone who is being bullied? Have they ever felt bullied? Do they know how to block someone in chat or on Facebook? I also use this time to remind them that I expect them to treat others with respect and kindness and to never be mean to others online or offline.
Not only do kids need us to reinforce rules such as “stop, block and tell,” and remind them to “take five” from technology when they are upset, but we should also help them learn the skills they need to protect themselves. Like with learning any other skill, this takes time. They may slip up occasionally when they are learning the skills they need to stay safe in their online world. My biggest concern with my kids is making sure they know that they can come to me if they get into trouble, rather than trying to hide what is happening in their life. They need to hear over and over that they deserve to be treated well and that we care about them.
Below are some tips on how to start the conversation with your kids.
Initial conversation tips:
- Be nice – Treat others the way you wish to be treated, online and offline
- Take five – Never go online when you are angry or hurt
- Block – Learn how to block users in chat, email and on social networking sites
- Talk to me – They should tell a trusted adult if someone is bullying them (remind them that they will lose technology only if they are the bully!)
If your child has been a victim of cyberbullying:
- Call the police if there is any concern about personal safety
- Record all interactions with the bully
- Contact the school and see if they can help
- Contact your local authorities if you need to press charges
Tracy Mooney is a mother of three and McAfee’s CyberMom. She blogs about family safety issues and shares her own insights and learnings to help you stay safe online. You can read Tracy’s blog at www.mcafee.com/momblog