Cyberbullying – mean, threatening or hurtful messages sent via text message or social media – is more common in kids’ lives than ever. Recent data shows nearly 36 percent of Door County Middle school students and 20 percent of high school students report being electronically bullied. Since kids are connected to their phones for most of their waking hours, cyberbullying can happen anytime. “It’s easier to do, since perpetrators don’t have to see their victims and often act anonymously. Because technology is ever-present, victims may not even feel safe in their own homes,” says Barb Johnson-Giese, licensed clinical social worker at Door County Medical Center.
There are ways to combat cyberbullying. Here are some tips for parents and kids from Johnson-Giese to help cope with and minimize exposure to cyberbullying.
- Involve yourself. Know what your kids are looking at on their phones, including being aware of what social media sites they’re using. “Just as we ask children to let us know where they will be when they leave the house, parents should be asking kids where they are spending their time online.”
- Model responsible phone use. Make phone use expectations clear with children. “Being respectful to others in communication and making sure others are respectful of them are two key messages,” says Johnson-Giese. Above all, adults should be examples of these behaviors.
- Have conversations. Kids don’t always have the experience or ability to understand the long-term effects of their actions. Open conversation about online communication can help kids sort out how to act and react online.
- Be proactive. If kids are on the receiving end of bullying behaviors, let them know it’s not okay or acceptable. Blocking bullies, not responding and reporting bullies are all ways to deal positively with the situation. “Although some parents are inclined to take away a child’s phone if they’re being bullied, that can feel like a punishment to the child.”
- Use the news. Cyberbullying situations are often in the news. Use the opportunity as a chance to have a neutral discussion about the topic, asking questions like “What would you do in this situation?”