Much of the information for this week’s post comes from a webinar presentation called “Bullying Beyond the Schoolyard: Advice for Parents to Prevent Cyberbullying” by Dr. Justin Patchin, University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, author and director of the Cyberbullying Research Center. This week’s post is the second in a three part series on Cyber-Bullying. Check out last week’s post on what constitutes cyberbullying and why teens can’t just “turn off” their devices when it happens here.
Cyberbullying seems to have become every bit as real in the everyday life of teens as any flesh and blood bully, perhaps even more so. With technology reaching into every aspect of public, personal and home life, cyberbullying can seem like a voice repeating negative things directly into your teen’s head and, at the same time, shouting them out to everyone else.
What can be done to prevent cyberbullying?
Parents often feel so overwhelmed by the influence of technology in their children’s lives that believe there is little that they can do to control it. Parents often don’t know where to start. Dr. Patchin points out that parents need to provide structure and guidance in the use of technology in much the same way that they provide structure and guidance in other aspects of their children’s lives. He reminds us that we don’t let young people drive a car without offering them the skills, knowledge and practice they need to be safe and successful.
Likewise a parent can and should establish a similarly structured approach to technology usage.
- Model respectful computer use, including when and how to use technology responsibly.
This is not as evident as it might seem. A school district in our area recently had an issue with group of young teen girls who were in conflict with one another at school and on Facebook. The school interceded and was able to stop the fighting – until the parents became involved. The moms of the girls began posting nasty comments and arguing with each other in posts on their own Facebook sites.
- Choose what you think is an appropriate age for owning a particular type of device or using a technological application or game. Then stick to it.
Facebook requires that users be 13 years old to have an account. However, Facebook does not know, or even particularly care, about your child. In reality, many teens are not ready for the responsibility of keeping personal information private or fully able to comprehend what is appropriate and safe to share in public, until their mid-teens or later. Many parents, on the other hand, look the other way or give permission when children younger than age 13 falsely represent their age to create a Facebook account. Don’t be swayed by the popularity or wide use of a type of technology. Make your own choice based on what is right for your children and family.
- Make certain you and your teen are educated about the technology they are using.
Many parents, myself included, find themselves overwhelmed by the ease of use, depth of knowledge and spirit of exploration that teens bring to their technology usage. It can truly feel like you and your teen have entered a foreign country and they are a lot better at understanding the language. Remember, education works both ways. If you don’t know something, ask your teen how it works. Many teens will enjoy the opportunity to be the expert and you will expand your knowledge in the process. Keep in mind, however, that you don’t have to understand the finer points of how something works in order to have the wisdom to see the risks or danger involved. I might not know how to load and shoot a gun, but I know that it can be life threatening.
- Give your teen opportunities to “practice” their use of technology under supervision.
There are some low-tech ways to monitor what your teen is doing online without hiring your own personal hacker. Consider requiring that devices be used in the public areas of your home. For instance, you can make a rule that the laptop stays in the kitchen, you will have more opportunity to look over your teens shoulder on occasion to check in on what they are viewing or doing. Limit the number and types of devices that a young person can use in their bedroom. A smartphone is essentially a pocket computer, so it does no good to limit computer usage and then allow your son to take his cell phone to bed with him. Ask your teen to supply you with passwords as a condition to having a device. Take the time to occasionally check usage such as text history, apps, and Facebook posts. Often youth who are being bullied online do not tell their parents right away. It is embarrassing, they may not believe that you would have the ability to help them or they may try to protect you from the hurt they are experiencing. If you discover what is happening, you can take steps to help.
- Restrict technology use.
When you allow your teen to have a particular technological device, you should have rules that indicate how the device can be used. You can limit the amount of time spent using the device, prohibit the use of certain apps, sites or games and (set rules for responsible use). Youth who have been cyberbullied talk about how difficult it is to get away from it. If you restrict the location and amount of time your teen can use devices from the onset, they, will, at least, have some bully-free spaces if the worst happens
To be successful co-existing with computer use in common areas, avoid commenting unless there is a real problem. As annoying as it is to find your teen watching You Tube when she is supposed to be doing homework, try to bite your tongue, avoid nagging and give your teen some measure of privacy. Your very presence is the deterrent. Save your outrage for when your teen does something truly dangerous or hurtful.
These preventative tactics may not ensure that your child never experiences cyberbullying, but they can lessen the impact if it does occur. In next week’s post we will share some tips for what to do if your teen is experiencing cyberbullying.
Article by Becky Mather
Becky is an Outreach Specialist for the University of Wisconsin Cooperative Extension at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Much of her work centers on parenting education and adolescent development. She and her husband are the parents of two young adults and a pre-adolescent. Becky is a Certified Family Life Educator.