When kids are electronically (cyber) bullied, it can be hard for parents to detect, until it becomes an overwhelming issue. A cyberbully can be a close friend or a faceless entity, a single force or a group of people. Often kids and teens don’t share their online interactions with their parents, until these interactions become unbearable and even then they may say nothing. There are so many social media sites your kids may use… Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, Tumblr, Vine, Twitch, YouTube and online gaming platforms. It is hard to keep up with them all!
Parents can learn about all of these sites, spend money on monitoring and blocking net safety software, and read every book there is on keeping your kids safe online, but all of these combined are not as effective as your best tool... Your relationship with your child!
Talk to your child up front
No matter the online platform or how much or little kids or teens engage in social media, establishing an openness to talk about what they are doing online, who they are interacting with, and what sites and apps they are using is key to setting the tone for potentially more difficult conversations. It is OK to express support for their technology use and acknowledge the value in it for them. As we all know, technology is here to stay. Set age appropriate limits and discuss expectations. Allow them to negotiate and collaborate on an agreement. By doing this, they will be more likely to take ownership of their behavior and you will have a more solid foundation upon which to hold them accountable. Let them know that you, as their parents, reserve the right to look at their devices, if you feel there is a concern about their safety or if they demonstrate an inability to use technology safely. Connect expectations to your family values. Use language that reflects facts (something that was said or something you heard or observed), statements of consequence (certain actions are helpful or hurtful, effective or ineffective), or personal preferences ("I didn't like seeing that"). Refrain from judgmental language (e.g., good/bad, stupid, nice, etc.). These kinds of evaluative words can heighten emotions and shut down open communication.
Edited by Steffie Rapp, Juvenile Justice Specialist, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice, and StopBullying.gov Ed Board member.