What do you do to keep you child safe online? If the answer is, “I don’t know” or “Nothing,” then this blog post was written for you. With electronic devices being more accessible than ever, most children and teens communicate primarily using social media. At the same time, many parents feel at a loss as to how to take control. This era brings with it a whole new dynamic to parenting and monitoring children’s online behavior.
In this post, we’ll discuss some of the dangers that children and teens encounter online and what you as a parent can do to protect your children.
Social media exposes your child to negative electronic communication on a 24 hour basis. Research released in 2014 (by the Pew Institute, Auburn College of Education, American Psychological Association, and the National Crime Prevention Council) reveals the following facts about cyberbullying:
- Nearly 43% of kids have been bullied online. 1 in 4 has had it happen more than once.
- Over 80% of teens use a cell phone regularly, which provides more opportunities for bullying.
- 90% of teens who have seen social-media bullying say they have ignored it.
- Only 1 in 10 victims will inform a parent or trusted adult of their abuse. This means you may never hear about it from your child.
- Parents of girls, beware! Girls are about twice as likely as boys to be victims and perpetrators of cyber bullying.
- About 58% of kids admit someone has said hurtful things to them online. So if you have two children old enough to use the internet at least one of them has experienced online bullying.
– More than 4 out 10 say it has happened more than once.
- Bullying victims are 2 to 9 times more likely to consider suicide.
- About 75% of students admit they have visited a website bashing another student.
You can read more about these facts here.
Developmentally, during adolescence peer relationships are extremely important. Your teens are constantly trying to fit in and feel as though they belong socially. This makes them extremely susceptible to online dangers. When your child is targeted online it can be emotionally damaging. They also do not yet have the cognitive ability to consider the consequences of their actions and make thoughtful decisions. For example if someone on social media tells your child to kill themselves, your child does not have the tools he or she needs to make a sound decision to get out of the situation. An example of this is the terrible story of 13 year old Nicole Lovell who went missing in January after thinking she was meeting an 18 year old male for a date.
As frightening as this sounds, there is no need to panic! These 7 steps will help you protect your child from imminent internet dangers.
7 WAYS TO KEEP YOUR CHILD SAFE
1. Create Rules and Limits about Electronic Use
Sometimes, parents are confused about how to set limits with their teen’s electronic use. I’m here to tell you, Do Not Be Afraid! You are the parent and you have not only the right, but the responsibility to encourage and regulate responsible use of electronics. Here are a few ideas:
I’ve spoken to parents who install monitoring software onto their child’s phone or electronic device. Some parents check their teen’s devices on a regular basis in order to view what apps are downloaded and what communication is occurring (be sure to have all of your child’s passwords!). Also, beware of the various dangerous apps such as icon-hiding apps that children use in an attempt to hide information from their parents.
Some parents set curfews for device use and put the device into a locked box at 10pm and the child only retrieves it at 6am the following morning. Only you can decide what works best for you and your family, but monitoring your teen’s electronic use is essential in protecting them from dangers found online.
2. Talk with your Teen
Educate your child on the dangers of cyberbullying. Ask them if they’ve experienced bullying and what they would do if they encountered or received negative electronic communication. Ask them how they would respond to an invitation from someone they’ve only met online. If your teen does casually mention an incident of cyberbullying, be sure to listen and take them seriously. Resist the urge to interrogate. This way they will remain open and won’t feel judged by you. Remind your child that you cannot help them if they do not inform you about a situation. Help them come up with a list of adults (such as family members, teachers, counselors, coaches, etc.) they would speak with in the event you are not around or they are afraid to tell you directly.
3. Report Immediately
You can report bullying to the social media site and also to your school, depending on the situation. In 2013, “Cyberbullying” was added to the Florida bill HB 609, allowing schools to discipline students for off-campus harassment that “substantially interferes with or limits the victim’s ability to participate in or benefit from the services, activities, or opportunities offered by a school or substantially disrupts the education process or orderly operation of a school.” If you don’t live in Florida, your own state may have passed a similar legislation.
It’s great that schools can intervene on behalf of students who are targeted, but the school can’t do anything if it is not brought to their attention. Parents have the primary responsibility of monitoring their child’s social media use to prevent bullying, and of reporting bullying when necessary,
Cyberbullying can also be a crime when messages or pictures contain threats of violence, nudity, or pictures taken in places where privacy is expected such as a bathroom. Online stalking or actions considered to be a hate crime can also be against the law. If you suspect a crime has taken place, report this information to the police immediately.
4. Promote Positive Change
Encourage your child and his or her friends to create a Positivity Page. A Positivity Page is a social media page in which students can post about positive interactions they witness in their school or community. This could help students change their social media habits into more positive ones. It also provides an opportunity for you as a parent to model appropriate ways to communicate online.
5. Know Your Resources
Think of those within your community with whom you can speak if you are worried about your own child or someone else. Pastors, counselors, and other trusted adults are some examples. Teens who are isolated due to social media and cyberbullying can become depressed and can think of committing suicide. Many crisis hotlines and crisis text lines exist in which trained personnel are available to speak to a teen or anyone 24/7. Share this information with your kids. They could help a peer in time of need.
6. Don’t Respond
You can prevent further bullying by asking your teen to not answer a cyberbully and to save all pictures and messages. You can also block a bully on social media sites. Don’t be afraid to take their phone or device away. You are not punishing them, you are protecting them.
7. Pay Attention
Look for signs or changes in your child’s behavior. There could be a change in mood, increased isolation from friends and family, tearfulness, irritability, or lack of interest in attending school. Any change from their normal behavior could be a sign that something more is happening.
Knowing your resources and maintaining open communication with your children are the keys to preparing them to overcome negative online encounters. Using the above steps to develop a plan for your child will let you sleep better at night, knowing that your children are more prepared to thrive in a digital world and that you know how to support them.
What do you think? Which of these 7 steps can you implement TODAY? Comment below and share some of the struggles you have. Don’t wait. The online world is just one click away.
For more information, visit www.reginaboyd.com.