Social media is a big part of most teenagers’ lives; it’s a part of how they learn to communicate with others and form lasting connections with friends. But unfortunately, social media platforms that some consider relatively benign are also used for nefarious purposes like harassment and cyberbullying. The trauma from cyberbullying is very real and can have startling impacts on our children. Cyberbullying is any form of harassment that uses electronic means, often starting as hate speech, trolling, ridicule, or sexual explicit communications, which can escalate to leaking private images and texts, harassment, and even death threats.
According to TechJury, people who are victims of cyberbullying are 1.9 times more likely to commit suicide. But often, perpetrators of cyber abuse are also struggling and unhappy themselves; they are 1.7 times more likely to commit suicide.
In addition to keeping your house stress-free and healthy, fostering a positive and safe environment helps ensure a feeling of trust at home. Children should feel like they can communicate any problems they’re having with their caregivers. The home should feel like a sanctuary away from the stresses of social media and bullying.
The Prostasia Foundation shares a few ways to protect your kids from the cyberbully threat.
Incorporate anti-cyberbully strategies
Cyberbullying.org recommends you protect your kids from cyberbullies by teaching them the following tips:
- Keep photos PG. Cyberbullies love to get their hands on compromising or embarrassing images sent during a moment of poor judgment. This practice, known as “sexting,” can cause trouble for unwary teens, not only now but at any time in the future. It can derail careers, keep students out of colleges, and even result in legal action.
- Limit social media contacts to known and trusted acquaintances. Having thousands of “friends” might seem like an easy route to popularity, but it exposes teens to harassment from cyberbullies posing as trustworthy confidants. If your children must engage on social media, do your best to make sure they are exercising caution and not engaging with fraudulent accounts.
- Become aware of social media platforms and their inner workings before allowing them on computers, tablets, and smartphones. Educate yourself and your teens with what you learn.
- Delete suspicious emails right away. Teach your kids about how to spot phishing emails as well. It only takes one virus-laden message or attachment to cause a world of trouble for teens and their families. Report all spam to the ISP and encourage your teen to do the same.
- Learn more about fraudulent virus warnings, otherwise known as scareware. These typically arrive in the form of popups alerting you to a potential virus. Ignore these. By clicking on the popup, you can actually install a virus on the device.
- Log out of online accounts while away from a device, even if the absence lasts only for a few moments. Seasoned cyberbullies can poach confidential information within a few seconds. The teen will never know this happened until they receive harassing messages or threats.
- Use strong passwords and never share a password with anyone other than parents. The password is the key to everything a person does online. One way to make online activity even more secure is to set up two-step verification for email and other accounts. The user receives a short numerical code from the provider which, along with the password, is essential for accessing personal information. The code changes with each log-in, preventing cyberbullies and ID thieves from using obsolete versions.
- Have a plan in place for how to deal with cyberbullies. Out the cyberbully if necessary by reporting them to their parents, school, or even to the authorities. Trained cybersecurity experts can usually track down even the most elusive online predator, possibly saving other teens from falling victim to exploitation.
- Teach your teens to think carefully before posting any comments and sending messages. A comment made in the heat of the moment can have consequences that can last years. Cyberbullies thrive by taking advantage of these kinds of indiscretions.
- Never give in to demands for pictures, passwords, or other information. The more the bully knows about their target, the easier they can use personal details to manipulate and torment them.
- Teach your teens to stay away from cyberbullying others. Abusing people online hurts the bully as well as their victim. Exercising good Internet etiquette helps to make the internet a safer, more pleasant resource for everyone’s benefit. It also safeguards the teen from the penalties that await cyberbullies who get caught. These can include fines, public disgrace, or even jail time.
- Last but not least, talk to your children. Let them know that you’re open to discussing any problem they might have, in a way that doesn’t pass judgment on them. Letting your child know that you’re willing to talk to them about anything allows them to open up about problems they’re facing, whether it’s cyberbullying or something else altogether.
Raising kids in the digital age can be challenging. It requires vigilance on the part of parents and caregivers. Teaching teens to exercise caution online can help to create a better future for everyone, both in the real world and online.