With Spring Break upon us, kids will soon have much more free time on their hands which means they’ll likely spend even more time on digital devices for socializing and entertainment. Therefore, parents must remain attentive to what their kids are doing online and recognize when they need to intervene regarding suitable and inappropriate behaviors.
Many studies have shown that at least 70% of our youth, ages 12-17, are affected by cyberbullying. Cyberbullying can occur through harmful messages, exposure of private information, aggressive threats, or any other personal attack; potentially unlawful actions that can result in public embarrassment, depression, violence, criminal charges, and suicidal thoughts. Sadly, this type of conduct is now commonplace on many different social media platforms, as well as “group chats” among teens. During the isolation period of the COVID pandemic, we noticed an increase in abusive digital behaviors by students that can be detrimental to their mental health, future reputation, and physical safety.
As adults and community role models, it is our responsibility to monitor the online activities of our youth and model what healthy behaviors look like on all social media platforms. If parents can properly assess their teen’s online risks and articulate their expectations, years of emotional trauma can be avoided. The easiest manner to foster responsible behavior is by first having constructive conversations to gauge their child’s online activities, their awareness of the threat, and if they are engaging in or experiencing cyberbullying themselves. It is crucial to discover and discuss what types of interactions they are having so these damaging habits can be stopped before serious and irreversible ramifications may occur.
Intervening may not be easy, many adolescents will deflect or resist, but ignoring such uncomfortable realities will not remedy them or benefit your children. Always know, help is available if you lack knowledge of the digital world or simply need a friendly median to ensure civil dialogue or answer any tech-related questions. To nurture more healthy habits, try developing solid boundaries for your teen’s online use. You may even want to create a cyber contract explaining your expectations: what device(s) and applications can be used, allowable hours of use, unacceptable online behaviors, possible rewards for good behavior, and the consequences for breaking these agreed-upon rules. If these steps fail to bring about change or your child refuses to cooperate, parental controls can also be installed or activated on most home internet networks, as well as phone, computer, and gaming devices.
I implore all parents and educators to encourage kids to talk to a trusted adult if anything makes them feel unsafe or uncomfortable online. Even if we diligently follow all these steps, there is still a high likelihood our youth will face cyberbullying and other forms of harassment. If a child comes to you to share any of these troubling behaviors, make sure to fully listen, report the inappropriate actions, and thank that individual for coming forward. The more our children share their online experiences, the better we can respond to their needs and protect them from these evolving threats.
For more information, visit www.missingkids.org (National Center for Missing & Exploited Children) or contact SOS at 800-825-1295.