Wouldn’t it be nice if kids could leave the veiled threats and cutting words behind when the bell rings for summer break? Unfortunately, bullies rarely take a break from intimidating others over the summer and, given their extra free time every day, may even step up their game.
To date, nothing has humbled me quite like this parenting gig. Once upon a time I used to say things like “my child would tell me right away if he was bullied,” “my kids know how to handle themselves,” and “this kind of stuff happens to other people — you know, clueless people.”
Then my kid got bullied. Big time. The shame and embarrassment stopped him from telling me. It escalated from Facebook to text, to phone calls, to in-person threats. The police got involved. The bullying caused deep emotional wounds that still surface as my child moves into adulthood. I’m pretty sure I’ve lost more sleep over my kids’ spoken and unspoken fears and heartbreak than anything else in life. Through the process, I’ve learned when to step in, and when to let my kids fend for themselves. I’ve learned how deeply words can cut and how fear manifests and expresses itself in a child’s life. Bullying is not to be dismissed, especially as summer approaches and with it, our kids’ screen time.
Over the summer months, our observations skills need to be sharp, and our listening, cued in. Summer means cookouts, poolside, and stargazing. But, for some kids, summer also means more bullying, exclusion from parties or outings, feelings of isolation, and even amplified conflict.
According to a 2014 McAfee survey, Teens and the Screen, 87%
of teens surveyed citing they witnessed cyberbullying this year versus 27% in 2013. The reasons kids are being bullied online — 72% stated it was over appearance, 26% answered bullying was due to race or religion, and 22% stated their sexuality prompted the bullying.
If your child has ever been bullied and feared for his or her safety, then the NBC news story of teens sneaking thousands of guns into school for protection against bullies, sadly, isn’t unimaginable.
As parents, our role is to keep our eyes and ears open this summer. Speak up if you sense trouble. Don’t hold back. Go with your gut. Get nosey. You are a parent for a tiny window of time so being nosy — and repeating things your kids claim they “already know” — is part of your job. Your consistency and attention could mean the difference between a great summer and an emotionally, even physically dangerous one.
Things NOT to do:
- Never tell a child to ignore the bullying. Social media has changed the impact and consequences of bullying and in turn, how we need to respond to it.
- Choose your words carefully. Never blame a child for being bullied. Even if he or she made poor decisions or aggravated the bullying, no one ever deserves to be bullied.
- As angry as you may be that someone is emotionally hurting or physically threatening your child, do not encourage your child to physically fight back. Aggression could backfire and get your child hurt or even arrested.
3 Ways to Avoid Bullying Online
- Make profiles and photos private. By refusing to use privacy settings (and some kids do refuse), a child’s profile is open to anyone and everyone, which increases the chances of being bullied or personal photos being downloaded and manipulated. We often recommend on this blog that parents require kids under 18 to make all social profiles private without exception. This limits online circles to known friends and reduces the possibility of cyberbullying.
- Avoid risky apps. Apps like ask.fm that allow outsiders to ask a user any question anonymously should be off limits to kids. Kik Messenger and Yik Yak are also risky apps. Users have a degree of anonymity with these kinds of apps because they have usernames instead of real names and they can easily connect with profiles that could be (and often are) fake. Officials have linked all of these apps to multiple cyberbullying and even suicide cases.
- Don’t ask peers for a “rank” or a “like.” Believe it or not, the online culture for teens is such that often kids will be straightforward in asking people to “like” or “rank” a photo of them and attach the hashtag #TBH (to be honest) in hopes of getting an affirmation fix. Talk to your kids about the risk in doing this and the negative comments that may follow. Affirm them and remind them often of how much they mean to you and the people who truly know them and love them.
3 Things to Do if Bullied Online
- Tell someone. Encourage your child to talk to a trusted adult (preferably you but if not a counselor or trusted family friend) if he or she experiences any bullying. Many teens keep quiet when being bullied which communicates to a bully that he or she is fair game for harassment. Encourage your child to come to you at the first sign of bullying or conflict online. Monitor his or her online circles and observe the tone of his or her online conversations. Being the target of a cyberbully creates fear, humiliation, and often leads to isolation, so your child will rarely be the first to speak up about it. Until they have the skills, parents need to monitor and coach kids online. Start early and be consistent. Also, do your best to steer clear of the lecture mode. Being a trusted advisor will help your child gain his or her communication chops sooner than later.
- Save the evidence. Print copies of messages, texts, photos used to threaten and intimidate. Use the save feature on instant messages and take screen shots of posts or comments on social networks.
- Report serious incidents to police. Report the cyberbully to the social network in the Help section. Report the cyberbullying to the police or cyber crime unit in your area if the cyberbullying contains threats, intimidation, or sexual extortion of any kind. Know your rights and get the critical resources you need at StopBullying.gov.
Toni Birdsong is a Family Safety Evangelist to McAfee. You can find her on Twitter @McAfee_Family. (Disclosures).
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