The internet has changed the way we live – from the way we work and play, to how we interact and share with friends and family. Sometimes, it’s hard to remember how we got along without the web. Today’s generation of children, especially, have no idea what life was like before the internet. Unfortunately, this also means that it can be hard for parents to fully understand their children’s digital lifestyle.
Children are particularly vulnerable to dangers on the internet. According to the Norton Online Family Report 63 per cent of New Zealand children have experienced some form of a negative situation online, yet only 45 per cent of parents were aware of this. And one of the most common negative experiences that can have a profound impact on a child is cyberbullying.
The experience of being bullied, that was once limited to the schoolyard or playground, increases when inflicted online, since it can take several forms. Cyberbullies send text messages, emails, instant messages, social networking messages; they post content on blogs, web pages or online game platforms to harass, embarrass, or intimidate others. It is often anonymous and repetitive and can be the work of a single perpetrator or an online group.
For the most part cyberbullying occurs for the same reasons as traditional schoolyard bullying: to demonstrate power, to seek revenge, or to compensate for perceived injuries. Cyberbullying has a troubling emotional impact on children with many Kiwi children saying they felt angry or upset when bullied online. These are emotions that children shouldn’t have to experience. Today’s parents are the first generation of parents who have to cope with keeping their children safe not just in the physical world, but also in the virtual world.
As the amount of time children spend online continues to increase, parents need to be in the loop. New Zealand children report on average they have 64 online friends, which is the fourth highest amount among survey countries. The good news is that the Norton Online Family report found that parents in New Zealand are most likely to say they have spoken to their children about practicing safe online habits.
To protect your child against cyberbullies, follow these four essential S.T.A.R tips:
- S is for Software: Security software needs to be updated regularly and constantly assessed to suit the changing level of online interactions. Let technology work to your advantage and not at the expense of online safety. Security tools help parents spot potential online dangers and facilitate open communication between parents and their children.
- T is for Talk: It is a parent’s responsibility to keep their children safe online by connecting with them through regular conversations (not interrogations). Kids are a lot savvier with technology and explore online activities such as chatting, emailing, gaming and posting personal information and images on websites. Regrettably, online predators have become adept at using these technologies to approach children and teens.
Let your kids know the dos and don’ts:
- Do limit the time your children spend online so they can still socialise and play outside.
- Don’t let them instant message or email people you and they don’t know.
- Don’t let them give any personal information to anyone you don’t know.
- Do let them know what kinds of websites you expect them to avoid and why.
- Do make sure they know that they should tell you if something weird or unexpected happens.
Always ask questions in the conversation you have with your children. Ask:
- What websites they’re visiting?
- Who are they instant messaging or emailing?
- Has anything out of the ordinary happened to them online?
- A is for Awareness of REAL online risks i.e. Internet predators, cyberbullying, etc. Stay in tune with kids’ online activities and learn about social networking sites, which are very popular amongst teens.
- R is for Rules: Set online safety rules for your family and be consistent. Establishing boundaries for online activity between parents and children is vital, and open dialogue and clear expectations are most important steps. Create family policies for email, IM, blogs, and social networking accounts. Check the online identity of every person they communicate with to make sure it’s someone you know and trust. Keep your computers in a central part of the house; that way you can see what your children are doing.
There are many ways to report cyberbullying depending on where it takes place. Websites usually carry a ‘Report Abuse’ button which can be used to flag threatening behaviour. If the bullying is being carried out through text messages, you should contact your mobile phone network operator. It’s also important to save any examples of bullying in text messages, chat sessions or pictures in case you need to present evidence to a school official or police officer.