Bullying is real! Pretty obvious, right? But for me, until my kids reached middle school and I heard about how kids were being bullied, I really had no idea. If there is one thing I have learned about bullying, it is that it can have devastating effects on the victim and their family.
We all want our kids to grow up confident and strong, right? We also want them to have the freedom to be themselves. But in our “digital age” society, parents have to keep a watchful eye on what is going on all around them. October is Bullying Awareness Month and I would guess this topic concerns you like it does me. If so, here are a few ways you can be smarter about it and help shut bullying down.
Times Have Changed
The bullying we grew up with– physical bullying, name-calling, hazing in the halls, and so on– has become more covert with the advent of social media. We can’t always see it when a group of kids are together, because so much of it takes place online. Even when we are online, we’re often not in the same digital space as our kids. As soon as we adopt a platform, they abandon it for something that supposedly is newer and cooler. Honestly, sometimes it feels it’s impossible to keep up.
Detecting Online Bullying
Are you suspicious of your kid being a little “off” or more stressed than normal? Does he or she seem more this way after they have used technology? Maybe you noticed them putting their device down suddenly. When they’re using it, are they startled easily? If so, they may be on the receiving end of online bullying. Many of the signs of “old school” bullying are still present when happening online. These can include loss of sleep, irritability, dread of going to school, and frequent claims of illness.
Getting to the Bottom of It
One big obstacle to learning about bullying is that kids are hesitant to tell on their peers. They don’t want to be perceived as a snitch. I would suggest that with younger children, parents must maintain some level of control over their social media use. I know many parents who require their kids to share their passwords in order to use a social media app (we do). Another idea is to require your kids to friend you if they want to use another social media app. That way, you can check in and see what’s going on.
If you see something that’s a problem, make sure to take screenshots. This way, if and when you need to discuss the bullying with other parents, teachers, or even the authorities, you’ll have timestamped evidence, even if the original post has been deleted.
As your kids get older and want more autonomy, make sure you’re spending time with them to create a strong relationship. If you hear about possible bullying going on, and it involves someone your kids know, ask them for their take. Make sure you show respect for their point of view and listen more than you talk. Having developed strong relationships with your kids, they will feel more comfortable disclosing any bullying that may be going on. And when they do come forward, make sure they know you’ve got their back no matter what.
Please remind your kids that if once something is put out onto the internet that it is there forever. If they can screenshot online activity, so can others. Sounds obvious but too many kids are posting photos or personal information that can be used against them, and possibly violate school or professional morality codes. The results can be very damaging.
Online bullying can be a big problem and it can go undetected right under our noses. But it doesn’t have to. Like it or not, we live in a digital age. We all need to keep our ears to the ground, maintain a watchful eye and teach our kids the skills they need to safeguard themselves and others.
Your Virtual Life Mentor,