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It’s not an easy time to raise a child. Parents today face new challenges that previous generations never had to deal with, and perhaps one of the most distressing is cyberbullying.
Bullying has always existed, of course, but treating others cruelly online is a relatively recent development. What is cyberbullying, exactly? Here’s a helpful definition:
Cyberbullying is the use of technology to harass, threaten, embarrass, or target another person. Online threats and mean, aggressive, or rude texts, tweets, posts, or messages all count. So does posting personal information, pictures, or videos designed to hurt or embarrass someone else.
Sadly, cyberbullying is much more widespread than most adults realize. It is so common as to have reached epidemic proportions.
Brent Dusing, CEO and founder of TruPlay, a Christian online entertainment platform, explained in an interview with Aleteia:
Almost 50% of all teenagers in the United States have experienced some form of cyberbullying. According to Pew Research, 46% of all teens aged 13 to 17 have experienced online harassment. And a recent study found that more than a quarter of children 8 to 11 years old and 40% of 12-16-year-old students have faced cyberbullying.
It’s a difficult problem for parents because children often are reluctant to tell their parents about cyberbullying, especially if the online attacks cause shame and humiliation. Even apart from these cases of deliberate malintent, many children aren’t aware that they shouldn’t be interacting with strangers online, nor that they should tell their parents if something upsetting pops up.
Often, “parents feel unsure about what their children are doing online,” Dusing explained.
A third of children aged 8-12 years game online with strangers and 26% of younger children 8-12 report experiencing something upsetting online; just under a third kept it to themselves. Many children appear unaware of how to manage privacy settings, report having contact with strangers, and play games aimed at older age groups with people they don’t know.
Safeguards parents can take
For all these reasons, parents can’t be too careful in monitoring online activity and communicating clearly and consistently with children. Opening up these conversations is a parent’s best defense.
A helpful resource can be found in the books Good Pictures Bad Pictures: Porn-proofing today’s young kids and Good Pictures Bad Pictures Jr. These books arm kids against inappropriate internet content.
If your kids don’t have phones yet, consider joining the Wait Until 8th movement, which advocates for delaying a child’s phone ownership until 8th grade or later. You might also check out OSPREY, started by Erin and Ben Napier of HGTV’s Home Town, an organization of parents committed to helping kids achieve social media-free childhoods until they graduate high school.
If your kids do have phones, one helpful strategy is for parents to collect phones and electronics from their children before they go to bed or keep phones and computers in common areas of the house.
It’s also important to explain to kids that people online could be lying about who they really are, and that they are never to share personal information.
You might also enjoy introducing your children to TruPlay, an app where kids can play Bible-based games and enjoy Christian comics and animation on a safe platform with no ads, in-app purchases, or chat features.
“At TruPlay, we are parents just like you, and we have the same concerns to protect our children from toxic content online. TruPlay is a safe and trusted Christian entertainment platform that invites you into a world of hope and God’s truth,” Dusing explained.
Dusing believes content choices are more important than the amount of screen time a child is given. “Parents should not feel guilty about their kids being online,” he said. “There are many benefits and solid reasons for kids to spend time online, yet parameters are important.”
As many games today feature violence and other intense content, it’s worth thinking about other options for kids’ gaming and technology and noticing how the digital world is shaping them.
What to do if your child is facing cyberbullying
It’s a scenario no one ever wants to be in, but many parents are facing it: Your child is the victim of a cyberbullying attack.
Take a deep breath: This is a horrible situation, but you are the right person to help your child get through it. And you do have options.
Document and report the attack
Social media sites and school administrations take bullying reports seriously. Print or save evidence of the attack in case the perpetrator deletes it later, and report it to the appropriate authorities. Depending on the situation, you may want to tell the perpetrator’s parents. In other cases, legal action or police involvement may be necessary.
Help your child work through the negative emotions
Bullying is devastating to a child’s sense of self-worth. It may be appropriate to seek out professional counseling, give your child some time off from school, plan special time with family or friends who love and support your child, and take other measures to help your child recover emotionally from such a hurtful experience.
Cyberbullying and online threats are a fairly new phenomenon for parents to face, and it’s natural to feel helpless and unsure how to protect your child. Hopefully these resources will help your family navigate the online world safely.