It makes better sense to discuss this question with parents. The discussion that follows could be shared with parents, without any need to edit.
Awareness and education can help considerably in preventing and dealing with the consequences of cyber-bullying. Here is a set of five cyber-values our children should be encultured with:
- Accountability: children need to be taught to think before they act; we need to educate them about the possible consequences of being involved in cyber-bullying as victim or perpetrator.
- Privacy: children need to be educated about the ways to be ‘private and conservative’ in their public life, especially in a global media, that is the Internet. They must be educated to keep their online information brief and their passwords well protected.
- Blocking: children need to learn to say ‘NO’, censor communication and relationship when necessary; block all communications from cyber-bullies and not to respond to their apparent overtures.
- Respect: teaching them to respect others and not to ignore the pain of others. If kids understand how much bullying hurts, fewer may cooperate with those bullying.
- Trust: it is crucial that we teach them not to take matters into their own hands but trust adults instead. However, if adults expect to be trusted they need to make themselves worthy of that trust by ensuring all the time and attention needed to deal with any reported bullying (and discreetly keep track of the situation for a while).
Fortunately, there are quite a few tools to help prevent and control cyber-bullying by equipping students with the critical thinking and decision-making skills they need to be safe, responsible and technologically proficient cyber citizens.
However, we think that it is less a technology issue and more about creating a better society for children – loving homes, caring schools and sensitive communities (at multiple levels).
What role can parents play in countering cyber-bullying?
First and foremost, parents need to be the one ‘trusted source’ that children can go to when things go wrong online and offline. Yet, they often are the one source children avoid when things go wrong online. Most of the victims do not talk to parents about cyber-bullying as they fear uncomfortable parental responses and ostracisation from peers (because peers also do not really trust parents) and are apprehensive that parents may overreact (for the lack of time and attention) and make the situation worse.
Commonsense to cyber-sense
First, the good news – keeping your children safe online does not necessitate learning much about technology, it is about commonsense and communication. Parents need to take cues from what their parents had done about bullying when they were young and apply the lessons to cyber-bullying of their children.
Here is a set of actions parents need to educate their children about:
- Do not talk to or accept anything from strangers. Online, everyone is a stranger unless assured otherwise, that is the rule.
- Come straight home after school. Parents have always known that children can get into trouble when they wander around after school. Wandering aimlessly online is not any different.
- Do not provoke fights. Trying to provoke someone in cyberspace is called “flaming” and it is just as avoidable as it is in the physical world.
- Do not steal. While downloading music without paying for it, and copying a friend’s computer game or software may be common these days, it is wrong. It is very important that we teach our children how to behave well online also.
- Do not tell people personal things about yourself. It is like writing your personal diary on a billboard. You never really know who you are talking to. And even if you think you know who you are talking to, there could be strangers lurking and reading your posts without letting you know that they are there. Educate your children to be very discreet on online profiles and public forums.
- We need to get to know your friends. Get to know their online friends, just as you would get to know their friends in everyday life.
Do’s for Parents
- Talk to children about cyber-bullying before it happens. Work out strategies to address any potential issues and reassure your children that you will be there to support them.
- Advise your child not to reply to any messages from a bully. Often, if bullies do not receive a response, they give up.
- Learn to block out a bully online, so that they are no longer able to make contact.
- Report cyber abuse to appropriate authorities, online or offline. Cyber laws are getting stringent and tracking cyber-bullies is also getting easier.
- Talk to your child’s school if cyber-bullying involves another student. The school should have a policy in place to help manage such issues.
- If your child has been involved in cyber-bullying and seems distressed or shows changes in behaviour or mood, it may be advisable to seek professional support.
- Stay involved in your child’s use of new technology. Set up your own account and learn about privacy settings to understand how to best protect your child. Ensure as much ‘public area’ (within home) access to computers and internet as possible and limit private access’ spaces and time.
- Encourage children to think before they put anything online. Information posted online can be difficult or impossible to remove. An inappropriate image posted today can also have a long term impact on their reputation, across the globe.
- If you find undesirable personal information appearing online, you can ask Google to disable the information. You could also reach out to the concerned website or online service provider and ask for it to be removed.
It may be stressed that shutting off the computer or turning off the mobile phone is not really the solution for escaping bullying. Connectivity is the life line for all of us and children too.