October is National Bullying Prevention Month, founded by PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center in 2006. Get involved!
Though bullying behavior has been around forever, cyberbullying presents new challenges — and kids today are the first to experience them. As a result, the need for parents to be proactive in addressing cyberbullying is more important than ever, but as Julie Hertzog, director of PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center, notes, it’s much more than just a social media issue.
“Cyberbullying can begin as soon as children have access to a computer, tablet device or cell phone, often long before they can use social media,” says Hertzog.
She advises parents to discuss cyberbullying and acceptable online behavior as soon as their child begins to use any kind of online or social technology, such as gaming and texting, and offers the following tips for protecting your child from cyberbullying:
1. Be supportive of your child’s wants and needs.
“It can be hard for children to talk about cyberbullying because they might be embarrassed, worry that it will get worse if they talk about it, or think they are somehow at fault,” Hertzog shares. “They may also fear losing access to their technology if they tell their parents they are being cyberbullied.”
Try to reassure your child that while you understand technology is an important part of their life, their online safety is most important of all. Also, let your child know that they don’t deserve to be bullied, and that you will help put an end to it, however you can.
2. Put rules in place to protect your child.
Just as you have rules to protect your child’s physical safety, put guidelines in place for your child’s cyber world. Some rules should include cautioning your child about what they should and shouldn’t reveal online; keeping email and social media passwords private; hours when technology is off-limits, such as after 9:00 PM or during class; parental access to your child’s technology and accounts. (For more ideas, check out PACER’s full list of suggestions about setting rules for cyber technology use.)
3. Stay involved in your child’s cyberworld.
Once you have rules for technology use and access in place, make sure to reinforce their importance by checking in with your child frequently about following them. As your child grows older and has access to new technology, you may need to tweak and change up family rules. “They should know how to access safety pages and reporting tools for any technology they use,” says Hertzog. “It’s important to keep encouraging your child to talk with you about any inappropriate behavior they either experience personally or witness being directed at others.”
If bullying does occur, make sure to document it, however you can. Save the URLs of the location where the bullying occurred; print emails or webpages; take screenshots. Have your child save bullying texts or have them forward them to you. You can also report cyberbullying to social media sites via their safety pages and block people who are cyberbullying your child.
4. Get to know the bullying prevention policy at your child’s school.
Ask about the school’s bullying prevention policy and the best person to be in touch with about cyberbullying behavior. Provide the school with documentation if and when you have it, and keep a record of contacts with the school, as well as the school’s response.
The bottom line? “As parents, we are responsible for knowing what our children are doing online,” says Hertzog. And that starts with learning how to protect them.
If you need additional help or the above suggestions are not enough, check your state’s laws at StopBullying.gov. State laws and policies often include requirements for how schools should address cyberbullying. PACER’s National Bullying Center is here to help.