Since cyberbullying often occurs while teens are at home, parents can be a great resource in preventing instances of this type of bullying. Here are some ways you can protect your teen from online bullies:
1. Have the “cyberbullying conversation”
Talking regularly with your teen about cyberbullying, Internet safety and etiquette, as well as their own online activities is one of the most powerful ways to prevent your teen from being both a target and a bully. If you cultivate and maintain an open, candid line of communication with your teen, he’ll be more likely to come to you willingly if he experiences some-thing unpleasant or distressing in cyberspace.
Be sure to cover:
- What cyberbullying is and where it typically occurs. Help your teen understand that cyberbullying is harmful and unacceptable behavior.
- What your guidelines are for online use. This should include where your teen can go online and what she can do there, when she can go online and for how long.
- What is considered appropriate Internet behavior. Also make it clear what the consequences are if she misuses technology (e.g., damaging her reputation, getting in trouble at school or with the police).
- What to do if anything makes him uncomfortable and the best ways to respond to bullies.
- How important it is that she tells you or another trusted adult if she receives threatening messages or is targeted in any way by a cyber-bully. Reassure her that when she does come to you, you will act rationally and logically (aka not make the situation worse), nor will you punish her by taking away her computer or cell phone privileges.
2. Pay attention to what your teen is doing online
- Keep home computer(s) in busy, easily viewable places, such as the family room or kitchen, rather than up in your teen’s bedroom.
- Ask to “friend” or “follow” your kids on social media sites or ask another trusted adult to do so. (Note: Do not abuse this privilege by commenting or posting anything to your teen’s profile!)
- Know who your teen communicates with online. Go over your teen’s address book and friend/follower lists with her. Ask who each person is and how your teen knows them.
- Insist that your teen give you his passwords and usernames (reassure him that you’ll only use them in case of emergency!)
- Limit data access to your teen’s smart phone if he uses it to surf the web. Some wireless providers allow you to turn off text messaging services during certain hours. Consider installing software that can help you control and track use.
- Talk to your teen about what sites she likes to visit and what her favorite things to do online are. You can make it fun by asking her to show you how to blog/create a video, etc.
- Investigate your teen’s online presence. Set up an alert on Google, or search your teen’s name occasionally through a variety of search engines.
3. Provide clear cyber-safety guidelines
Many teens don’t understand that online communities are public places, and may think that what they do is private. They also don’t realize how permanent their posts, texts, photos, etc. are once they’re sent into cyberspace.
Your teen should NOT:
- Do or say anything online that she wouldn’t do or say in person.
- Reveal anything that he wouldn’t tell a stranger.
- Share her passwords with anyone—ever (expect you).
- Share personal data (phone number, address, school, etc.) with strangers or where it can be seen publicly.
- Share too many personal or sensitive details about herself (e.g. on a blog).
4. Create an online code of conduct
Establish and review an online code of conduct to highlight what behavior is acceptable (and not) online. For example:
- We will not use social media to humiliate or embarrass other people.
- We will treat others online with the same respect that we do in person.
- We will not post videos or photos of others without their permission.
5. Limit your teen’s access to technology
The more time your teen spends online, the more likely he is to be targeted. Also, many kids who are bullied can’t resist the temptation to check websites or phones to see if there are new messages.
Given that adolescents struggle to manage their impulses, you’ll need to help your teen to self-regulate the time he spends online. Put reasonable limits on when and for how long your teen can be online (e.g. no computer or texting after 9 pm, during mealtimes, or until homework is done).
6. Boost your own cyber savvy
- Learn how to set a strong password that is unique and that others won’t know or easily guess.
- Learn how to set up and update privacy settings and block users on social media sites.
- Review service providers’ terms and conditions or rights and responsibilities sections. These describe content that is or is not appropriate.
- Learn the common text abbreviations teens use.
7. Take action
- Make sure your teen has someone she can trust to talk to (even if it’s not you). Teens need a responsible adult to confide in—a school counselor, teacher, even the parent of a friend—when trouble starts brewing.
- Help your teen’s school to establish an Internet Safety educational program to prevent and respond to online peer harassment
- Encourage anti-bullying legislation and Internet safety policies at the state, local, and district levels.
Not sure where to start? Download our free ebook, The Ultimate Guide to Talking to Teens about Cyberbullying.