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My colleague has teenagers that are active social media users. In the last few weeks one of her teens has been targeted by a school ‘friend’ and is experiencing posts that feel to her like bullying. Any advice to help keep her kids safe when online?
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Bullying is a huge problem, both in person and online. Here are a few measures recommended by various online safety experts to reduce the risk of cyber bullying:
• Implement technology boundaries from the start. Parental restrictions and permissions protect kids and provide parents with a degree of control over the content their kids can access. Enforce screen limits to prevent over-attachment and encourage a sense of self apart from a digital identity. This helps kids when they need to disengage from risky or hurtful online communication. Have an agreement in place that you can check your child's online communications at any time you are concerned.
• Be approachable and communicate often. Encourage questions about interpersonal and online relationships. Talk about the rights and responsibilities that come with that digital device ownership. Talk about privacy and about what information should never be shared online. Use other stories about cyber bullying and other online dangers as icebreakers for conversations about what your child can do in a situation where they feel unsafe or targeted.
• Monitor mental health. Kids with mental health challenges, kids who are not neuro-typical, and differently abled kids are often targets for bullies. Reinforce that every person is unique and that no one deserves to be bullied or shamed for being different.
• Encourage disclosure. Regularly reassure your child that you are there for them and that they should tell you if they are victims of any kind of bullying. Keep an eye out for behavioral changes such as withdrawal or avoidance of social activities. Be aware if your child is overly attached to their phone or if their phone usage exponentially increases or decreases.
• If your child is a victim of cyber-bullying, allow them to be a part of the resolution. Bullying is disempowering and if you take action without consulting your child, they may feel even more disempowered. If the bully is someone they know, be sensitive about how you approach the situation. Where necessary, involve the school or the bully's parents in a manner that works towards resolving the current bullying and prevents any future backlash.
• Speak to your kid's school about hosting talks and workshops on cyber bullying. This can help kids and teens combat social media risks without having to place attention on any specific child’s personal experiences.
I'm so sorry to hear this has been happening to your friend's child. No one should ever have to be targeted by someone else, to be bullied, and especially not a sensitive, still-maturing teenager.
I would first want to make sure my child felt safe, both at home and at school. By having an open and honest conversation with them, you can possibly determine how threatened they are feeling. Do not give them the option of not talking about it. They they are not adults yet, and cannot protect themselves in this situation, so they have to understand that talking it out will be for their benefit.
I would also start gathering evidence. As much as you don't want rhe situation to escalate, you also don't want it to be said that your child is "just overreacting", or "kids will be kids." This kind of thinking is what allows bullying to continue.
Get the school involved once you have this evidence and insist on action being taken. Do not attempt to approach the parents of the bully, let the school administration do this. If they won't intervene, consulting a lawyer may be an option.
Reach out to the internet service provider. By law, they are required to address cyberbullying, and have ways to combat it when other methods do not work.
I do hope your friend can find a solution which will help her teen feel safe using technology, in all forms, and no longer be victimized.