All too often we see the aftermath of cyber bullying on the news—tragic accounts of young lives deeply affected by online harassment and bullying. A child you know may have already experienced cyber bullying in some form, or even taken part in it.
The numbers are sobering:
- Over 70% of schools in Australia report dealing with one or more cyber bullying incidents during the school year.
- Around one in five students under the age of 18 experience online bullying during the year.
- Children between the ages of 10 and 15 are most likely to experience or be involved in cyber bullying.
Cyber bullying awareness tends to focus on the victim when it comes to prevention, but it is equally important to pay attention and consider the bullies themselves. Only by making efforts to prevent children and young students from becoming online bullies do we stand a better chance to stop bullying.
Here are some things you can do if you are concerned that your children are becoming or could become cyber bullies.
Make Sure They Know What Cyber Bullying is All About
It’s important for kids to know that cyber bullying isn’t just making nasty threats to someone online. According to Bullying. No Way!, hurtful teasing is the most common form of online bullying, followed by hurtful lies. What some may characterise as gossiping or spreading rumours may be devastating if posted online and shared.
As with traditional bullying, the damage to the victim is made worse by the fact that there are often onlookers. Whether they join in or just observe, their presence—especially if they don’t do anything to help—leads to a feeling of humiliation and a sense of helplessness. Your children don’t necessarily have to confront the cyber bully on the social media platform, but there are positive actions they can take, such as telling you or someone at their school about the issue. Also, a digital monitoring tool for teachers can be used to help them keep track of potential online bullying and make them more aware.
Understand Why People Bully
Whether it’s insecurity, low self-esteem, or an inability to cope, there is always a reason people resort to bullying behaviour. That’s why a blanket prohibition may not be the most effective form of prevention. In order to change this behaviour, you need to address the underlying cause. Is the child feeling unimportant and therefore picking on someone else to feel better? Is there a problem the child is dealing with and they need a constructive coping mechanism? Is the child’s home an environment with a lot of family discord, so they are picking up undesirable social behaviours? Do they need to learn about different cultural groups and respect for people from all walks of life?
By understanding why a kid is lashing out online, we can help them find better ways to deal with what’s going on in their lives. Ideally, we want the would-be bully to find positive outlets of expression, not a band-aid solution. This will go a long way to furthering their social skills and confidence as well.
Make Sure There Are Consequences—For Negative and Positive Behaviours
Without consequences, any lesson you try to teach about cyber bullying will just be lip service. If your kid engages in social media bullying—or through email, texts, or other online means—you can try taking away their electronic privileges for a reasonable time.
Equally important is rewarding good behaviour. Psychologically speaking, positive reinforcement is as effective—sometimes even more effective—than punishment. When you see your children handle a difficult situation in a mature way, tell them how proud you are. Leading by example also goes a long way in terms of instilling constructive traits in kids. Monitor how you speak to them, and how you handle conflict in front of them. Also try to point out positive characteristics you notice in other people. Keep an open dialogue about how you try to better yourself and cope with problems.
Promote Self Awareness and Assessment
Teach your child that there is nothing wrong with empathy or seeking help when needed. Encourage them to talk with you, counsellors, or health professionals if they need some guidance. In this day and age ruled by apps and online learning, there are programs that can help the youth look inward and learn how to communicate more positively. After all, effective cyber bullying prevention is not just about preventing people from becoming victims but preventing them from becoming bullies as well.
Make Use of Innovative Technology
Look for tools that can help you and your children review their online communications and use. Starshell Student is an innovative online bullying prevention and monitoring tool in Australia that combines filter rules and social media education to foster a meaningful awareness of prospective posts and messages. It acts as a digital platform that reviews content for appropriateness and, with its mood detection feature, can truly change the way your children express themselves online and help them appreciate the consequences of how they communicate in the internet. It revolves around education rather than punishment to turn young people and students into responsible social media users.