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5 things you need to know about protecting your child from cyber-bullying

In our fast-paced world of smartphones and always-on connectivity, bullying has taken a quantum leap from the playground to the world of social media, making it harder to track and more complicated to resolve.

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According to a recent survey by consumer insights company Pondering Panda, the increased use of mobile devices has contributed to the prevalence of bullying amongst school children. According to reports, a shocking 50% of all SA students admit to being a victim of bullying, at some point during their schooling. Cyber bullying, in particular, can have serious consequences for the well-being of your child and is becoming increasingly prevalent. Here’s what all parents and guardians need to know:

What is cyber bullying?
Your child could be a victim of cyber bullying if they’re constantly receiving offensive text messages or being bombarded with hurtful (sometimes anonymous) phone calls. The offending messages might also be transmitted via social media, particularly if users are complacent about profile privacy and security measures. Lax security settings mean cellphone numbers can easily be tracked down through social profiles.

What can you do to protect your child?
Proper understanding of your child’s online activity and teaching acceptable online behaviour is vital in preventing cyber bullying. It’s important to stress to your child that comments, statements and actions on social media are permanent and irremovable. This is why it is referred to as a digital tattoo.

Here’s what you can do to maintain control of your children’s online activity and prevent cyber bullying:

1. Stay informed

Make an effort to understand all social platforms used by your child – including implementation of security settings. Cyber bullies may be complete strangers and, for this reason, proper use of security measures on social network platforms is crucial. Cellphone numbers can easily be pulled from a social network profile, if this information is not safeguarded properly.

2. Get involved

Create your own accounts on the platforms your child uses, and discuss your usage with one another. You can even implement the security measures on your accounts together, using a video tutorial on YouTube. Once you’ve set these security measures, remember that they need regular checking and updating.

3. Keep boundaries reasonable

If your child has been active on social media for some time, a sudden clamp down with restrictions will not work. Discuss the risks of social media and explain why you need to introduce boundaries for their own protection. If they’re just entering the social media sphere, set rules from the very beginning and stick to them. Accepting you as a Facebook friend or a Twitter follower is a good way to monitor their presence online and to avoid future conflict.

4. Communicate openly

Building and nurturing a relationship of trust takes time. However difficult, winning your child’s trust means that should something go wrong, they can depend on you for help and will turn to you for advice. This means keeping the lines of communication open. Ensure your child knows about cyber bullying, and what actions to take if they are ever victimised. Also request that your child’s school tackle the issue, if it isn’t already being done.

5. Take immediate action

If your child speaks to you about being bullied, save the evidence of the cyber bullying, preferably by taking a screen shot, as this can’t be altered. Block the offender’s number or email address and report the incident. If you don’t get an immediate response, don’t be afraid to follow up with several more reports. The same way a bully relentlessly pesters a victim, you should relentlessly report incidents until action has been taken.

What should I say to my child if they’ve been a victim of cyber bullying?

  • The most important thing to stress is that the victim should not blame themselves. The cyber bully is the problem.
  • Ensure the victim doesn’t keep the messages or posts from the offender. Once you have saved screenshots, encourage them to delete anything harmful and block the person who sent it. Dwelling on the abuse and re-reading the content can be more harmful in the long term.
  • Urge them to speak openly about the incident with someone they trust – whether it’s you or a close friend.
  • Social media platforms are a useful resource for knowledge and communication, but too much time spent online isn’t healthy either. If a child has been the victim of cyber bullying, the best thing for them to do is spend time engaging in other activities – whether it’s a favourite hobby or sport. Time spent offline will provide the perspective to see that their online profile shouldn’t determine their self-esteem.

Perpetrators of cyber bullying are, as with other acts of bullying, usually victims of the abuse to begin with. Taking steps to prevent your child being bullied online, means the cycle of abuse can be stopped. Open communication and knowledge of the risks of social media is the most effective form of prevention.

Image: Devon Christopher Adams via Flickr.

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