Technology is morally neutral. Computers, cell phones, websites and social media applications — they can all be used for immense good or in ways that do others great harm. Cyberbullying is not a new phenomenon but rather is a growing and alarming occurrence in the lives of young people today. As parents and as educators, it is important to know how to empower children to use technology (especially social media) in healthy and wise ways. Though social media is nothing to fear, it is estimated that nearly 30% of students in the U.S. are involved in bullying online — as victims, perpetrators or both.
Be empowered to take some time to talk with your children about cyberbullying and how to safely use technology while still having fun.
Be aware of your child's online activities:
- Know what sites your kids visit and how they spend time online. Who are their friends and followers on social media? What kinds of pictures do they post? What are their conversations and statuses about? What types of videos do they watch or music do they listen to? Establish rules about what sites they are allowed to use and visit.
- Try out the devices and applications that they use and ask them questions about how they use them and why.
- Be respectful of your child’s privacy but also inform them that if you suspect something is wrong, that you will review their social media accounts, text messages and emails.
- Keep computers and other devices in the common areas of your home such as the living room or office. Perhaps make a rule that cell phones shouldn’t be allowed in the bedroom at night, and follow the same rules yourself in order to model a healthy use of technology.
- Set up your own social media accounts and ask your kids to be their friends or to “follow” them.
Show your children how to be safe online:
- Talk about what is appropriate to post or write on social media. Help them to understand that once something is posted, it is out of their control how others will use it. Inform them to never post something that could hurt or embarrass themselves or others.
- Give guidelines or establish rules about privacy settings and who can see what your children post — Should strangers see this picture? Should only real friends read this status? Should I allow friends of friends to follow me?
- Tell your children to keep their passwords safe and private and to not share them with others.
- Help establish the mantra of “think before you post.” Educate your child on how the internet is public and that they should never post anything online that they wouldn’t say to a room full of strangers. Also, encourage them to think about others before they post — Could this picture hurt anyone’s feelings? Does this information endanger or embarrass anyone? Would I want to be the recipient of this text?
- Encourage your kids to tell you immediately if they or someone they know is being bullied online. Ensure them that you are there to help, to listen and to understand without judgement.
- Talk about all the good things involving social media and online tools and entertainment. Be a positive example of what a healthy relationship to social media looks like and how it can be used wisely.
Know that there are incredible resources in numerous places with more information about cyberbullying and how to prevent or stop it. Counselors and teachers at Christa McAuliffe School of Arts and Sciences will always be here to help and empower students and families in any way possible.