With teens and tweens spending more time in front of screens than ever before, cyberbullying has exploded into a pressing global concern. In honor of National Bullying Prevention Month, we look at effective ways to keep kids safe and secure online.
As most parents can attest, today’s children tend to get glued to their computers and mobile devices. Although these technologies can be great sources for learning and connecting people, typical social norms can sometimes fall by the wayside, leading to negative or downright harmful interactions.
Young people are at the highest risk of being cyberbullied, which includes anything done online or via phone that humiliates, threatens, excludes or shames another person. While prior generations might have faced bullying in school hallways or playgrounds, the surge in communication channels — particularly social media — means that bullying has the potential to follow today’s kids wherever they go.
According to a recent survey from McAfee, a part of Intel Security, 87 percent of young people witnessed cyberbullying in 2014, more than triple the number last year. Among those who have been bullied, 72 percent said it was due to their appearance, while 26 percent said it stemmed from their race or religion and 22 percent said it was due to their sexuality.
More troubling is that digital bullying often escalates into real-world confrontations. The study found that 50 percent of young people have been involved in an in-person argument because of something posted on social media, and 4 percent reported that an online dispute ended in a physical fight.
Cyberbullying can lead to serious emotional — and even physical — harm, making it a priority for parents and guardians to know how to protect their children from digital threats. We spoke with experts from McAfee Family Safety about how to spot the warning signs that a child is being cyberbullied:
Start with conversation. When kids are really and willing to speak to you about a problem, try to listen as much as possible without offering judgment. Dialogue should be based on honesty and forgiveness, not recrimination.
Be tech-savvy. Try to familiarize yourself with all the devices, social networks and websites your kids use. It also helps to learn some of the common slang kids are using online.
Sharpen your senses. Several behavioral signals suggest a young person is being bullied. Does your kid become moody or anxious right after reading a text? Did she suddenly try to delete or deactivate her social media profiles? Watch out for dropping grades, a lack of interest in hobbies or a loss of friends — any of these can point to a cyberbullying scenario that needs to be addressed.
Once you’ve picked up on the signs of potential cyberbullying, how do you handle the situation and prevent further bullying in the future?
Establish rules. Create boundaries — set up limits for how much time your kids spend online and keep track of their mobile device usage. Know which apps they should (and shouldn’t be) playing with.
Set a good example. In all likelihood, teens and tweens aren’t the only ones in your household who spend time online. Model good behavior and integrity for children through your own behavior on the Internet.
Report what you see. If cyberbullying becomes a problem, save the relevant messages, print them out or take screenshots of negative comments on social networks. You can submit this evidence and report the behavior to the platform’s administrators. Reach out to teachers or school counselors about how to deal with the issue, and if the bullying escalates to threats, contact the police.
Cyberbullying is much more than just “kids being kids.” It can lead to lasting harm and poses a serious threat to the safety and well-being of young people, regardless of their background. One of the best ways to combat this trend is through technology education, and that means it’s imperative for parents to arm themselves with the knowledge and awareness they need to put bullying to a stop.
For more insights and advice on maintaining family safety online, visit McAfee Family Safety.