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Digital Age Parenting: Dealing with Cyberbullying

New study shows parents are unsure how to handle online hate with kids.

Source: Bigstock

In an ideal world, we could hope that all the anti-bullying songs, t-shirts, bracelets, quotes, campaigns, and hashtags could end online bullying, but the reality is this is human behavior.

We will likely never be able to control how people behave on a keyboard, young or old, so it's imperative that parents take the time to help their children offline to be prepared for the ugliness they may face online.

Teens view cyberbullying as normal

In the research by Journal of Youth Studies, although teens and tweens viewed online harassment as normal and didn't want parents involved, the study shares the need for improved communication.

According to this study, parents know they need to do something if they suspect a child is being cyberbullied, but many fear they may shut down communication with their child entirely.

Why teens don't tell parents

In order to become an educated parent, as it pertains to digital lives and cyberbullying, it's important for us to understand why teen's don't talk about their online struggles.

  1. Fear of consequences. Your child’s online existence is a critical part of their social life. With all their friends online, being excluded would be devastating them. They don’t want to risk you banning them from their friends and their digital lives.
  2. Humiliation and embarrassment. Our kids are human and have feelings. Although some kids portray a tough persona and believe they are invincible, deep down everyone feels hurt by cruel keystrokes. Your child may fear looking stupid or weak. If the incident gets reported to their school or summer camp, will they be able to face their classmates and campers? Imagine the horror of a child hearing from peers after being bullied that they somehow deserved it, brought it on themselves or should have just toughened it out rather than be a snitch.
  3. Fear of making it worse. We have taught our children well so they understand that bullies are looking for attention. By reporting the incident of cyberbullying to a parent, your child may fear it could anger the bully and make matters worse for them online. In some cases bullies will enlist more online trolls to cyber-mob your child. Of course the child’s dreaded fear is his or her parent reporting it to their school or camp and more people knowing whereby they become a possible target in the future.

Turning this around

As cliche as this sounds, it's all about communication. This is not like the sex talk that is typically one lengthy (stressful) discussion. Tech talks should be frequent, and can be as short as five minutes or as long as 30. Developing digital resilience is imperative to combat cyberbullying with young people. We hear about resilience as it pertains to offline bullying, but never doubt it's just as crucial when it comes to cyber life.

It's important to share your own experiences, if you have been hurt online. Young people are not the only ones being bullied online. Everyday we witness parent shaming or other adults being ripped apart. No one is immune to online hate.

Help them understand that bad things happen to good people and that ugliness online doesn't define them. Most importantly, you are always there for them.

It takes a community

Finally, the research also said school districts must clearly communicate their expectations of parents in cyberbullying situations and create procedures to report issues. This doesn't let us off the hook; we have to continue to ask for these policies and procedures. Cyberbullying and bullying, sadly, isn't going away anytime soon.

Being proactive will help "generation screen" have healthier and safer experiences.


Journal of Youth Studies

Teen, Screens and Tech Scene Parent Workshop