Remember when getting in touch with your best friend involved pre-agreeing at school a good time to call that afternoon or evening, waiting around until no-one else was using the house landline and – most importantly – making sure curious siblings or parents weren’t listening in on the conversation?
Well, for today’s teens, things are very different. The advent of social media sites, along with apps like Facebook Messenger, Instagram and Snapchat has given kids more ways than ever before to communicate with one another. And while most kids use online platforms as an outlet for the positive, cyberbullying continues to be an unfortunate byproduct of the digital age.
Bullying thrives on digital media because it can be done remotely and often anonymously – two things that give bullies the ability to completely detach themselves from the harm they’re causing. What’s more, the 24/7 connectivity offered by the internet and mobile devices also means there can be little reprieve for those affected.
Like most parents, my top priority for my own teenage digital natives is making sure they stay safe online. And while there’s no single response that will stop online harassment in its tracks, there are a number of ways you can help your child to thrive in the digital world.
Stay in the loop
Just like we all usually ask for the school-day run down from our kids – what they’ve learnt, who they’ve hung out with, if they’ve had any trouble – ask the same questions about their digital lives too. It’s the key to unlocking any cyber issues. Because kick-starting the conversation about what’s happening online can give kids the confidence to open up if there is something that’s upsetting them.
Shut down keyboard warriors
It’s an age-old saying, but treating others as you want to be treated is just as important in the digital domain as it is in the real world. Make sure your kids know that hurtful comments are unacceptable – whether they’re said to someone’s face or from behind the cover of a keyboard – and empower them to adopt a zero-tolerance policy to any kind of online harassment.
Promote positive bystander behaviour
Bullied. Bully. Bystander. No parent wants their child to be any of the three. Have a chat with your child about how to support anyone being bullied and work together to come up with ways to stand up to online abuse if they see it happening. This doesn’t necessarily mean they have to directly intervene. Things like reporting the incident to an adult they trust or sending a comforting message to the victim can be just as effective.
If your child is the victim of cyberbullying:
Talk to them
If your child’s being cyberbullied, the main thing you can do is to make sure they know that they’re not responsible for what’s happened. Help them to stay calm and positive. Often, reacting in the opposite way to how the bully expected them to can actually stop the cycle.
Document the evidence
Take screen shots. Take photos. Print conversations. Do whatever you can to create a portfolio of evidence that documents any behaviour that has upset or intimidated your child.
Try to cut off all possible avenues of communication between the bully and your child. Block mobile numbers and email address. Help your child to remove the culprit from their social media accounts and update privacy settings to make sure their profile is fully secured.
Report the abusive behaviour
Site administrators have the power to remove offensive or intimidating posts, so get in touch with them as soon as you’ve collected the evidence. It’s also worth speaking to your child’s teacher so that they can make sure the bullying doesn’t extend into school. And if the bullying extends into threats of violence, it goes without saying that you should inform the police straight away.
Consider support services
Advice and support from the professionals can be hugely beneficial in tackling cyberbullying and coping with the after-effects – for both you and your child. Confidential counselling services like headspace.org.au (for 12–25-year-olds) and reachout.com (for 14–25-year-olds) are great go-tos.
Read more on this topic from our Telstra Foundation partners and experts at PROJECT ROCKIT, Australia’s youth-driven movement against bullying.