A Parent's Perspective - Cyberbullying: The Hidden Danger of Social Media

Written by Janice Miller | janice@safetytoday.org

Editors note: This post comes to us from Janice Miller, a member of the SafetyToday team. Safety Today is a community of parents and professionals that have come together to help promote safety in the home and in the community. Janice is a veterinarian and founder of the Franklin Animal Rescue Society, which helps place shelter dogs in foster care until they can find their forever homes. 

 Image via Pixabay

Image via Pixabay

Cyberbullying: The Hidden Danger of Social Media

When your kids are far more tech-savvy than you are, it’s tough to keep tabs on everything they’re doing online — especially when it involves social media. But when it comes to preventing cyberbullying, it’s important that parents stay aware of kids’ online activity. Here’s what you need to know to keep your kids safe from social media bullies.

What is Social Media Anyway?

At its most basic form, social media are websites, apps, and other digital communication tools that let people interact with each other online. Social media can include social networking sites like Facebook, as well as photo sharing apps like Instagram and Snapchat, video-hosting sites like YouTube, and blogging sites like Tumblr.

How Do Kids Use Social Media?

Social media is where many kids spend a majority of their time online. In fact, by the age of 10, most kids have at least one social media account. They can chat with friends, share pictures and stories, and connect with others who share their interests.

Unfortunately, social media isn’t always used positively. Kids can use social media to spread rumors, share embarrassing photographs, or otherwise bully their peers. When social media and other digital platforms are used to harass, abuse, embarrass, or make fun of another person, it’s known as cyberbullying.

Who’s at Risk of Cyberbullying?

Any child or teen could become a victim of cyberbullying. While schoolyard bullying may typically happen where there’s a power imbalance — for example, a bigger child threatening a smaller one, or a popular kid teasing a less popular student — online, anyone can become a bully or be bullied.

Kids are particularly vulnerable to cyberbullying when they’re the new kid in town. Kids who have been in the same school for many years often have a network of friends for support, whereas a new student is more likely to be alienated.

How Can Parents Prevent Cyberbullying?

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The best way to protect your kids from cyberbullying on social media is to learn about the social media apps they’re using and how they’re using them. That doesn’t have to mean making Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and SnapChat accounts to follow your kids’ every move. Rather, foster an environment of trust and openness around internet activity.

Talk to your kids about using social media responsibly and safely. Discuss what types of information and images are inappropriate to share online, demonstrate how to make social media profiles private, and discuss how to block people they don’t want to interact with. Ask your children to show you their social media profiles. If you see activity you’re uncomfortable with, talk about it rather than forbidding the site outright.

If you choose to monitor your children’s online activity, be transparent. If your child discovers you’re spying on them, they’re less likely to turn to you if they encounter a cyber bully. Instead, discuss what sites are blocked and why, and what sort of monitoring tools you’re using. Tracking your kids’ online activity can be as simple as occasionally checking social network profiles or as complex as installing parental control software.

What if My Child is Being Cyberbullied?

If your child is the victim of a cyberbully, emphasize that it’s not their fault. Help them collect evidence of the bully’s actions by taking screenshots before blocking the perpetrator. Save the images and messages somewhere your child can’t revisit them.

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Finally, ensure your home is a safe and stress-free space. Kids who are being cyberbullied need a place they can escape to, but the nature of digital media makes respite difficult to come by. If your child is dwelling on hurtful messages or images, consider limiting screen time. Encourage your child to instead engage in fun activities like creating art, playing sports, or learning a new hobby. Treat your child as an important, valued member of the household by using affirming language and actions. The goal should be to build self-esteem independent of peers’ opinions.

The world of cyberbullying is complex and ever-changing, much like social media. Keep your kids safe by educating them, staying informed, and creating opportunity outside of the digital world.

Read our companion piece on the impacts of cyberbullying from a youth perspective here.

Resources

Check out these resources if your child is struggling with the impacts of cyberbullying, or to help inform you and your child about preventing cyberbullying.

Calgary ConnecTeen

Alberta Human Services - Bullying

Alberta Bully Research, Resources, & Recovery Centre Inc.

Safety Today

More reading

Indigenous Youth Cyberbullying – Centre for Suicide Prevention