“What is cyber-bullying and what can I do to protect my child from it?”
Cyber-bullying is basically harassing or tormenting another person through an online medium like Facebook or texting. There are several defined types of cyber-bullying: cyber-stalking, exclusion, outing, masquerading, etc. But let’s not get hung up on definitions. Bullying is simply when one person does something, physically or emotionally, to intentionally cause harm to another person.
So what’s a parent to do?
First of all... Be a parent – in more than just title. Be involved on a daily basis in your child’s life. Teach, monitor, assess and re-teach as necessary. Be the primary influence in your child’s life. This will be a common theme you’ll hear in this column. I’m a firm believer that parents need to take the majority of the responsibility for how their children turn out. Are they responsible, contributing members of society or are they prejudiced, bratty, self-centered and abusive members of society? How they turn out is somewhere around 80 percent due to how they were parented.
The Internet is not a “bad” thing. As with anything, it’s how you use it that makes it good or bad. Help your children understand that every choice has its price and its rewards. It’s only by understanding this that they can make responsible choices. Don’t use the old worn out phrases like “because I said so” and “do as you’re told.” You want to raise children that can think for themselves when you’re not around, not mindless automatons who only do as their told. The latter, by the way, is a great way to raise kids that give in to negative peer pressure like “c'mon, let’s steal something” or “let’s spray paint that wall” or “do it, or we won’t be your friends anymore.”
Use the Internet with your child. Certainly don’t try to keep them away from it. That’s just your own fear getting in their way. Remember when you were a kid and your parent said “NO!” Didn't that just make you want it all the more? Don’t repeat your parent’s mistakes.
Treat the Internet as you would any technology that is new to your child. Like a car or an oven, you didn’t let your child use them without some training first, now did you? Weren’t you there holding their hand when you first taught them how to cross the road? Continue to be there and show them about the proper use of new technologies like the Internet. Not just how to use it, but how to use it responsibly.
Get your child an email address account and a Facebook page, and then help them learn how to use them responsibly. Send your child emails and have them send you emails back to assist in the learning process. Set up yourself, your child and even your family (extended family too!) with Facebook pages to keep your child "in the loop" with the rest of the family.
Now, about the monitor part...
Always have the log in and passwords to your child’s accounts, and let them know you have them and that you’ll be looking at them occasionally. In the early stages, have their email account set up so that it forwards anything that your child sends or receives to your email address. Become “friends” with your child on Facebook and you’ll see everything they post to their page. There are simple strategies to keep abreast of how your child is using Internet technologies.
But please, only review their accounts with them present. Don’t go sneaking around behind their backs. If you want your child to trust and respect you, you have to earn it. Respect is a two way street or it’s not respect. It’s dominance.
If your child is currently being cyber-bullied, take action. Never delete evidence. Save any texts, instant messages, emails, Facebook pages, etc. that shows your child is being bullied. If possible, get the names of the children that are responsible and report them to the school principal and the police. There are laws on the books against cyber-bullying, so if it's happening make sure the police get involved.
Never contact the responsible party’s parents yourself. Let the school system or police take that step. If the kids are bullies, it’s quite probable that the parents are too and won’t “listen to reason.” Never confront the responsible kids by yourself either. Your goal is to deescalate the situation, not make it worse.
Until next time – keep sending in those questions!
Joel Waldron is the owner and master instructor of The Academy of Martial Arts & Personal Development in Manchester and the owner of the Conscious Choice Life Coaching. He is also the Professor for Martial Art studies at Manchester Community College, a consultant for many area organizations on the topic of bullying and an advisory board member for Manchester's Youth Services Bureau.