Communication devices and social media are great tools for helping teens stay in touch with friends and family, explore interests, complete homework and learn more about the world but they can also leave teens vulnerable to the dangers of cyber bullying. Cyber bullying is the intentional, repeated abuse of a person that takes place electronically, often through texts, chat, social media sites and websites via cell phones, computers and other handheld devices. The emotional pain of being bullied is very real and can have long-lasting effects. Youth who have been the target of cyber bullying are more likely to use alcohol and drugs, skip school, experience bullying in person, be unwilling to attend school, receive poor grades, have lower self-esteem and have more health problems.
Ways for people to cyber bully each other include rumors, embarrassing photos or videos sent by email or posted on social media sites and websites as well as fake profiles on social media accounts. Teens may feel like they are unable to escape cyber bullying because it can take place at any time of the day and reach teens wherever they are. Additionally, it can be difficult to find out who posted the abusive messages and photos because of the anonymous nature of many social media sites. Deleting the messages, photos, posts and texts after they have been posted can be extremely difficult, so the abuse never disappears.
Here are some tips from Parents.com on what parents can do to prevent cyber bullying:
- Build trust with your teen. Set time limits, explain your reasons for them and discuss rules for online safety and internet use. Your teen will be more likely to follow the rules if he/she helps set them.
- Learn how social media sites and apps work. Become familiar with sites and apps like Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, Kik, After School, Yik Yak, Ask.fm and Burn Notice. Trends change, so be vigilant with searching online for what apps and websites are popular.
- Talk regularly and specifically with your teen about online issues. Let them know they can come to you for help if anything is inappropriate, upsetting or dangerous.
Here are some tips from Parents.com on navigating the situation if your teen is being cyber bullied:
- Tell your teen not to respond to any cyber bullying threats or comments online but also to not delete any of the messages. Print out all the messages, including the e-mail addresses or online screen names of the cyber bully. You will need the messages to verify and prove there is cyber bullying.
- Don’t over-react. If they are being bullied, be supportive and understanding. Find out how long the bullying has been going on and ensure your teen that you’ll work together to find a solution. Let your teen know they are not to blame for being bullied.
- Don’t under-react. Telling them to “shrug it off,” just deal with the bullying or having a “kids will be kids” attitude will make them think the situation isn’t important to you.
- Don’t threaten to take away your teen’s electronic devices if they come to you with a problem. This only forces kids to be more secretive.
- Talk to your school’s guidance counselor so he/she can keep an eye out for bullying at school.
- If there are threats of physical violence or the bullying continues to escalate, get law enforcement involved.
Here are some helpful links for preventing and responding to cyber bulling:
Parents talk to your teens. They will listen!