When we think of kids and cyberbullying, we tend to think of older kids or teens in high school. But the truth is, cyberbullying often starts much earlier — especially since children are getting their own smartphones as early as 6 years old, according to some studies.
Here’s how to stay on top of things early, so it doesn’t become an issue with your child.
1. Have a conversation early.
Before your child ever accesses any technology used to communicate with other others — including social media, chat groups, interactive games and texting — sit down and have a talk.
When you discuss technology use with your child, acknowledge that it may be difficult for them to talk with you about bullying. If you reassure your daughter or son that you understand how important it is to be able to communicate with friends by phone and online, they may be more likely to let you know if troubling communications occur.
Above all, let your child know that you’re there to support them if they experience any kind of cyberbullying. At the same time, be sure they understand that if they exhibit cyberbullying behavior themselves, there will be consequences. Explain to your child that if something hurtful is communicated online, it is cyberbullying, and no one deserves to be bullied.
2. Set clear cyber rules and guidelines.
Just as you have safety rules for your son or daughter in the physical world, do the same in their cyberworld. Safety basics include not sharing email or social media passwords with friends; realizing that not everyone online is who they claim to be, and thus, being careful what you share with people you may not know; and setting boundaries about what is and isn’t appropriate to share online.
Establish clear rules about whether your child can “friend” people they don’t know, certain hours your child can access technology, and whether or not technology is allowed in their room at bedtime. Discuss what behavior is and isn’t acceptable, and be sure to encourage your child’s questions to ensure you’re both on the same page.
3. Stay involved in your child’s changing cyberworld.
Let your young child know that you will have access to their passwords, email accounts, social media, and other technology, and “friend” your child to monitor what they post. Determine if and when you might use passwords to check on account content. Explore parental control options through your internet and wireless service providers and continue to establish with your child what access you will have to their online lives.
Encourage them to also check in with you when they have questions or if something just doesn’t feel right. Stay up to date with changing technology, and as your child matures, consider adjusting the rules so they are effective and age-appropriate.
As a parent, you are responsible to know about your child’s cyber life. Open communication is the best way to make sure their interactions are healthy and fun.
PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center actively leads social change to prevent childhood bullying, so that all youth are safe and supported in their schools, communities and online. PACER also provides innovative resources for students, parents, educators, and others, which you can access now at PACER.org.