While screentime will obviously climb during this period of social distancing, so do instances of cyberbullying. This online form of bullying leaves deep emotional scars on the victim, and youth growing up in a digital world need to know how to handle it. The best thing parents can do to protect teens from cyberbullying, harmful digital behavior, and exposure to adult content is to have open, honest discussions, even if this is uncomfortable to do. When families communicate values and expectations about appropriate digital behavior, including viewing or sharing content, and apps they can and cannot use, youth are profoundly less at risk. Be clear that your intention is not to intrude or spy, but to look out for their well being. Always listen to their concerns and express your perspective.
To minimize the risk of cyberbullying or harm from digital behavior, parents can:
- Set clear expectations about digital behavior and online reputation.
- Educate about the harmful effects of cyberbullying, posting hateful speech or comments, sexting, and sharing naked photos of themselves or others.
- Be clear about what content can be viewed or shared.
- Identify which apps are appropriate for your teens’s use and which are not.x
- Establish rules about the amount of time that a kid or teen can spend online or on their devices.
- Model positive, respectful digital behavior on your own devices and accounts.
Parents, stay in the know about what your youths are doing online:
- Monitor a teen’s social media sites, apps, and browsing history, if you have concerns that cyberbullying may be occurring.
- Review or re-set your youth’s phone location and privacy settings.
- Follow or friend your teen on social media sites or have another trusted adult do so.
- Stay up-to-date on the latest apps, social media platforms, and digital slang used by kids and teens.
- Know your teen’s usernames and passwords for email and social media.
- Establish rules about appropriate digital behavior, content, and apps.
Finally, having conversations with your kids and teens about cyberbullying and digital behavior is not a one-time event – it is an ongoing dialogue. Begin talking about these issues before youth delve into the world of texting, social media, online gaming, and chat rooms. Help them reflect on real and potential cyberbullying situations, and provide ongoing opportunities to practice ways to respond. Doing so can support the transition from being passive bystanders to being allies who serve as powerful role models for others.