I can’t tell you how many times over my 25 years of parenting that I’ve just wanted to wrap my boys in cotton wool and protect them from all the tricky stuff that life can throw our way. But unfortunately, that’s never been an option. Whether it’s been friendship issues in the playground, dramas on a messaging app or dealing with broken hearts, it can be really hard watching your kids experience hardship.
Get Ahead Of The Problem!
But one thing I have learnt from years of mothering is that if you spend some time getting ahead of a potentially challenging situation then you’ve got a much better chance of minimising it. Or better still preventing it – and this absolutely applies to cyberbullying.
Is Cyberbullying A Big Problem for Aussie Kids?
In early 2022, McAfee interviewed over 15,000 parents and 12,000 children worldwide with the goal of finding out how families both connect and protect themselves online. And what they found was astounding: Aussie kids reported the 2nd highest rate of cyberbullying (24%) out of the 10 countries surveyed. American children reported the highest rate. The average for all countries was 17%. Check out my post here with all the details.
So, to dig deeper into this issue of cyberbullying, McAfee commissioned additional research in August this year to better understand what cyberbullying looks like, where it happens and who the perpetrators are. And the biggest takeaways for Aussie kids:
- Name calling is the most common form of cyberbullying
- Most cyberbullying happens on social media
- Aussie kids have the highest rate of cyberbullying on Snapchat
- 56% of Aussie kids know the perpetrator
You can check out my post here with all the details.
How To Avoid Your Kids Becoming a Statistic
So, if you need to grab a cuppa and digest all this, I don’t blame you! It’s a lot. But, as mentioned before, I honestly believe that if we get ahead of the challenges, we have a greater chance of minimising the fall out. So, without further ado – here is my advice on what you can do NOW to minimise the chance of your kids being involved in cyberbullying – either as the victim or the perpetrator.
1. Talk About Online Respect and Kindness As Soon As They Start Using Devices
As soon as your kids move on from just watching movies and playing games on their devices, you need to talk about the importance of ‘being nice’ online. A more natural way around this is to extend your parenting advice to include the online world too. For example:
- ‘Remember how important it is to be kind to everyone when you are in the playground at kindy – as well as when you are online.’
- ‘Always say please and thank you – to your friends in-person and online too.’
And don’t forget the importance of role-modelling this too!
2. Check Your Family Communication Culture
One of the best things you can do is to create a family culture where honest and genuine two-way communication is a feature of family life. If your kids know they can confide in you, that nothing is off-limits and that you won’t overreact – then they are more likely to open-up about a problem before it becomes overwhelming and ‘unsolvable’.
3. Understand Your Child’s World
Parents who have a comprehensive understanding of their child’s life will be better able to detect when things aren’t going well. Knowing who your kid’s friends are, who they ‘sit with’ at lunchtime, their favourite music and their boyfriend or girlfriend needs to be a big priority. I also encourage parents to establish relationships with teachers or mentors at school so they can keep their ‘ear to the ground’. When a child’s behaviour and interests change, it can often mean that all isn’t well and that some detective work is required!
4. Ensure Your Kids Understand What Bullying Is
Cyberbullying can have a variety of definitions which can often cause confusion. In McAfee’s research, they used the definition by StopBullying.Gov:
Cyberbullying is bullying that takes place over digital devices like cell phones, computers, and tablets. Cyberbullying can occur through SMS, Text, and apps, or online in social media, forums, or gaming where people can view, participate in, or share content. Cyberbullying includes sending, posting, or sharing negative, harmful, false, or mean content about someone else. It can include sharing personal or private information about someone else causing embarrassment or humiliation. Some cyberbullying crosses the line into unlawful or criminal behaviour.
McAfee’s definition was then expanded to include specific acts of cyberbullying, such as:
- flaming – online arguments that can include personal attacks
- outing – disclosing someone’s sexual orientation without their consent
- trolling – intentionally trying to instigate a conflict through antagonistic messages
- doxing – publishing private or identifying information without someone’s consent
Along with other acts, including:
- name calling
- spreading false rumours
- sending explicit images or messages
- cyberstalking, harassment, and physical threats
- exclusion from group chats and conversation
Now, I appreciate that reading your children several minutes of definitions may not be very helpful. So, instead, keep it simple and amend the above to make it age appropriate for your kids. You may choose to say that it is when someone is being mean online, if your kids are very young. But if you have tweens in the house then I think more details would be important. The goal here is for them to understand at what point they shouldn’t accept bad behaviour online.
5. Give Them An Action Plan For When They Experience Bad Behaviour Online
As soon as your kids are actively engaged with others online, they need to have an action plan in case things go awry – probably around 6-7 years of age. In fact, I consider this to be a golden time in parenting – a time when your kids are receptive to your advice and often keen to please. So, this is when you need to help them establish good practices and habits that will hold them in good stead. This is what I would instil:
- If someone makes you feel upset when you are online, you need to tell a trusted adult
- Save a copy of the interaction, perhaps take a screenshot. Ensure they know how to do this.
- Block the sender or delete them from your contacts.
- Report the behaviour to the school, the police or the eSafety Commissioner’s Office, if necessary
Now, of course not all bad behaviour online will be defined as cyberbullying – remember we all see the world through different lenses. However, what’s important here is that your kids ask for help when they experience something that makes them feel uncomfortable. And while we all hope that it is unlikely that you will need to escalate any interactions to the police or the eSafety Commissioner, knowing what the course of action is in case things get out of hand is essential.
6. Make Empathy A Priority
There is so much research on the connection between the lack of empathy and bullying behaviours. In her book Unselfie, Parenting expert Michelle Borba explains that we are in the midst of an ‘empathy crisis’ which is contributing to bullying behaviour. She believes teens today are far less empathetic than they were 30 years ago. Teaching your kids to ‘walk in someone’s else’s shoes’, consider how others feel and have a focus on compassion will go a long way to developing an empathetic lens. You can read more about helping develop empathy in your child here.
There is no doubt that cyberbullying is one of the biggest parenting challenges of our generation and, unfortunately, it isn’t going to disappear anytime soon. So, get ahead of the problem – teach your kids about kindness from a young age, create an open family communication culture, make empathy a priority in your family and give them an action plan in case things get tricky online. But most importantly, always listen to your gut. If you think things aren’t right with your kids – if they don’t want to go to school, seem emotional after using their devices or their behaviour suddenly changes, then do some digging. My gut has never let me down!