BY MARY JO RAPINI, M.ED., L.P.C.
Are your kids getting bullied in their own home?
The kids are out of school, and you are looking forward to not having routines and school activities. Even though you sense peacefulness at this time without the hubbub, your child may not. Your child did not leave their “world” behind at school. Their world is increasingly the life they have online.
You can be a great parent in all other aspects; however, if you don’t understand who your child is talking to online, what they are experiencing, or who is coming into your home over the phone or computer, you are missing an important aspect of your child’s life. Below are tips for parents who have children using the Internet, social media networks, and cell phones:
Discussions, discussions, and more discussions. Parents must have a basic knowledge about what’s going on in their kid’s online worlds from a verbal and physical standpoint. Since social networking has become a daily routine for kids, it needs to be part of the daily conversation. The more non-judgmental you are with your kids, the more likely they are to tell you if they come across an issue.
Spread the word. In addition to talking to kids about cyberbullying, parents should spread the word to other parents and act as a true advocate for the issue. Comment on blogs, forward news stories, “re-share” on Facebook, stand up at the PTO meeting—use any communications necessary to get your voice heard.
Learn the warning signs. Look for the signs of bullying so that you can recognize it in your own child or any child. Below are just a few signs of bullying, but don’t forget to trust your instincts:
•A sudden, drastic change in your child’s behavior
•Torn, damaged, or missing pieces of clothing, books, or
•Unexplained cuts, bruises, and scratches
•Fear of going to school, walking to and from school,
riding the school bus, or taking part with peers in organized
•No interest in school or their grades
•Weepy, sad, moody, or depressed after school behaviors
•Complaints of headaches, stomachaches or other physical
•Loss of appetite or weight gain
•Anxiousness or low-self-esteem
Teach what to do. Teach them how to manage themselves if they get an offensive or threatening post or comment and when to bring the issues to you. When they do, believe them and show your support.
The Golden Rule. It does apply to online interactions. “Do unto others as you would have done to you.” Digital manners need to be reinforced just as regular manners do.
Finally, there are a few other items that parents should pay attention to while monitoring social networking sites for cyberbullying:
•Friends and connections – Kids are likely to accept requests from almost anyone. Discuss with them as to why they should only be connected to people they know and only connected to adults if they are in the immediate family.
•Posted Photos – Take a close look at the types of photos your kids post. Remember that the interpretation of the photo lies in the eyes of the beholder, meaning a simple photo in a bathing suit on a family vacation could mean different things to its viewers. Also, take a look at photos posted of your child by others. Be aware that with geo-tagging, photos show the location of the poster. Scary?
•Time spent online and where – Keep tabs on how many hours per day your child is online, what sites they are on and where they are accessing these sites from. Services such as TrueCare.com, an Internet-based service that may provide an early warning of potentially concerning or dangerous online behavior. If for any reason you cannot personally monitor your child’s online posts, this type of service sends automatic email alerts concerning activity related to “friends,” photos or posts within their child’s social networking accounts like Facebook, Twitter, Myspace and more.
Our children are growing up in a virtual world. Their ability to understand how it works is much better than their ability to understand the consequences of what they’re exposing for millions to see. It is our job as their parents to secure their safety until they are mature enough to understand the permanence of their random, fleeting, and immature thoughts.
Mary Jo Rapini, M.Ed., L.P.C., is a licensed psychotherapist and co-author, with Janine J. Sherman, of Start Talking: A Girl’s Guide for You and Your Mom About Health, Sex, or Whatever. Read more about the book at http://www.StartTalkingBook.com and more about Rapini at www.maryjorapini.com.