Cyberbullying or cyberstalking can be devastating to the victim. It is also a growing concern for teenagers and adolescents. Cyberbullying makes the victim feel cornered and helpless and it can occur at any time of the day, regardless of whether one is at home or school. It can also happen over phone, tablet, computers and other mobile devices. Since most kids today have their phones with them at all times, it can be an endless cycle of daily and nightly abuse. Let us take a look at ways to deal with cyberbullying:
1. Understand what is different about cyberbullying
The old adage states that sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt. This is not true in case of cyberbullying where words can be devastating and could leave emotional scars. Because it can intrude in spaces that are regarded as safe; cyberbullying leaves the victims with no places to have refuge.
2. Talk to children about cyberbullying
Parents must make kids aware about the dangers of cyberbullying. Grownups need adolescents to understand the consequences of their actions. Parents must also encourage children who may be victims of this crime to speak up about it. All children must be made aware of the consequences –both the bully and the child being bullied-if they are caught.
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3. Schools need to play a role too
Apart from creating awareness at home, it is essential to have strict policies against cyberbullying at school. School authorities must use sanctions available to them to use against bullies after making all students aware of it. This way; no young person is surprised at the consequences of being found guilty of cyberbullying.
4. Know different methods used by cyberbullies
Cyberbullies use different platforms to harass their victims:
- Text – These can include threatening or offensive texts. Some bullies actually make use of pay-as-you-go phones to threaten their victims. This makes it difficult to identify the bullies.
- Video clips and images – These may be uploaded to embarrass the victim.
- Calls – Bullies may bombard their victims with silent calls, abusive messages or even deceptively show that the calls/messages are coming from the victim.
- Emails – Bullies can easily set up different email ids or use pseudonyms or other names to send abusive emails or texts.
- Chat apps – These can be used in different ways to attack the victim. Multiple bullies can gang up against a single victim through Instant Messaging or in chat rooms.
- Social media – Social media unknowingly puts a lot of peer pressure on the victim to have certain number of followers or get likes. Bullies can misuse these platforms to spread rumors or gossip about victims. Many bullies open fraudulent accounts with fake pictures to enjoy anonymity and cyberstalk their victims.
5. Parents and kids: be alert to the threat
Parents must watch out for tell-tale signs of cyberbullying after their child uses the Internet. Does he/she seem upset? Talk to your child. It is important that you have the environment of trust where your kid feels comfortable showing his/her phone to you. Gently try to find out if any comments from people online are upsetting your kid.
6. Keep an eye on your personal computer
Is your child using the laptop/computer/tablet behind closed doors? Change the location of the home PC to an area which is not private, so you can become more aware of your child’s online actions.
7. Use parental controls where possible
Do ensure that your teenager is not able to access certain sites. Use parental controls and safe searches. Keep passwords safe and keep an eye on the computer history to ensure that your child is not visiting inappropriate sites.
8. When your child confides in you
Keep the text messages and emails safe as you might have to show these later to concerned authorities. Having evidence of offending emails and texts can help you identify anonymous bullies or cyberstalkers.
9. Ask kids not to retaliate
Parents must ensure that their child does not retaliate in any way; no matter how tempting that might seem. Retaliation would worsen the situation in that; it might encourage the bully to change his attack style and even lead the victim into breaking the laws. This will only worsen matters for the victims.
10. Talk to parties involved
Adults can intervene and put a stop to cyberbullying by finding out the reasons behind it. Never take arguments and problems from the real world into the cyberworld. Instead teach children to solve problems in a healthy and positive way through discussions and face to face interactions.
11. Use personal security settings on social media
Many social media sites offer security features which prevent people other than ones from your friend lists to comment on your photos. You can also unfriend or block people who bother you. You can make your account more secure by reporting offensive messages or comments from cyberstalkers or bullies to concerned website authorities. Parents can also report cyberbullying to the service provider. Remember: these sites want to create a safe environment for people to meet and not create a bullying playground.
12. Kids: know who to ‘friend’
On sites like Facebook and Instagram, teach children to only accept friend requests from people who they know in real life. Make sure you talk to under-18 kids about the right time to create social media accounts.
13. Practice respect online
Teenagers and adolescents need to know that they ought to use the same respectful language and good manners online as they do in the real world. Parents must promote online responsibility in teenagers and adolescents.
14. Identify someone to trust to about cyberbullying
Sometimes, teenagers are not comfortable speaking to their parents or family members about these issues. Parents may help identify some other grown up like the church pastor or a trusted uncle or aunt to talk to about cyberbullying to their kids.
15. Parents: stay in touch with school authorities
If you know of cyberbullying incidents which may or may not involve your kids; talk to the school authorities and report the same. Most schools have strict anti-bullying which include cyberbullying.
16. Contact the police in case of serious threats
If the form of cyberbullying takes on a serious threat or violence, do not hesitate to contact the police.
Parents: keep communication channels open with your kids and check in with them from time to time to know what ways they are using the Internet. Kids and parents must develop a rapport where they can discuss if anything goes wrong and be able to solve problems together.