How To Protect Kids From Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying is a serious concern, with teens and tweens spending time online and on social media. Tips for Indian parents on how to protect kids from cyberbullying.

Cyberbullying is a serious concern, with teens and tweens spending time online and on social media. Tips for Indian parents on how to protect kids from cyberbullying.

By Anindita Mishra

Bullying is not a new term at all; this act of deliberate cruelty is probably as old as humanity itself. Most of us have faced bullying in our lives – be it in the playground, school, office or home. The extent varies from harmless name-calling to physical assault.

But cyberbullying is quite new, for it came into existence only after the emergence of the cyber world. Cyberbullying is harming or harassing people in a deliberate, repeated, and hostile manner in the cyber world. And bullies have the perfect platform for it – the online world, which offers them anonymity and hence a sense of protection against possible repercussions.  In the virtual world, there are many kinds of people, good and bad, just like in the real world. These bullies use the social media to trick innocent victims into making embarrassing confessions, or initiate and spread malicious rumours, and/or abuse and defame them. And as I said earlier, they have a big advantage; they can do all this anonymously. This anonymity makes them feel safe which encourages them to be aggressive and mean.

A big role played in cyberbullying is the fact that most tweens and teens today own or have access to smartphones, laptops and PCs. The choice of Internet access also throws light on the future trend in gadget preference. I will share with you some of the pertinent findings from the McAfee Tween and Teens Technology Report 2013. Currently, 61% of tweens spend 1-4 hours daily on desktop, about 40% use tablets and 68% use mobile. Further, almost 50% have shared personal information on Facebook! In addition, 88% share photos of themselves. And what more, 36% of them have admitted to chatting with complete strangers!

Want to know more? Indian tweens are online for about 2 hours daily and 45% of them are online later than 8pm. Facebook, Skype and Twitter happen to be the top three social media sites for kids, with Skype marking a phenomenal growth in popularity, with one out of two tweens using it.

So we have the stage set. The kids are there on social media, they have the devices and apps to access these sites and they just prefer being online and sharing everything with, oh almost, everyone. So there are kids with friends exceeding 2000 (I kid you not), and those who feel depressed if their posts and pictures don’t immediately fetch over 500 likes (Again true!). The environment is rich for bullies, they can comment, post, share, hack, dupe to their heart’s content, confident that their ID will not be discovered.

But it can be, as the latest episode on MTV India #Webbed showed. This serial tackles 13 real cyber-abuse stories. The said episode showed how a teen harassed her best friend online by posting false updates and demeaning comments out of sheer jealousy. This is what is happening around us, and like the parents of the victim in the episode, most parents are unaware of!

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I visited MTV home page and was shocked at some of the confessions posted on MTV Webbed’s Confession page!

What do you do as a parent?

– Be aware of cyber world and cyber threats

– Discuss your own childhood bullying stories with kids to encourage them to share theirs

– Befriend your child online, as well as a few of their friends

– Be watchful of any drastic change in your child’s behaviour and social activities

– Check what kind of people your child is befriending and sharing content with

– Say “NO” to Skype-ing with friends in the privacy of their rooms

– Help your child identify a bully and block him/her

– Talk to school authorities if you suspect your child is being bullied by school friends

– Don’t be blinded by your love and ignore if your child happens to be the bully. Correct him

Kids will indulge in some light-hearted leg pulling online. That’s the fun part of growing up with peers. They help you to stay rooted and discover the flaws in yourself. But things can, and do, get out of hand when mean and brutally hurting comments start flooding the Facebook wall. Then it’s no more teasing but bullying. A few questions to help your kids differentiate between bullying and teasing:

– Does he or they make spiteful comments on all your posts?

– Do the harassers spread malicious rumours about you and instigate others to do likewise?

– Do they post funny pictures and tag you just to mock you or embarrass you publicly?

– Do they often give a thumbs-down to your pictures and make gross remarks about your looks/intellect?

– Have you ever received comments like “Go die!”, or “You are a blot on mankind? You should kill yourself”?

If your child has been facing such ridicule and humiliation online, you must take action and involve school authorities in it. Cyberbullying must be stopped and culled at the nascent stage before it gets out of hand and leads to something more serious.

One reason why a child seeks approval online is that they do not get it at home. Never ridicule a child for looks or merit. Instead let your child know that everyone loves him unconditionally and are always there for him. A child from a loving, close-knit family will rarely stand bullying or bully others. That doesn’t mean you turn a blind eye to a child’s faults and pamper him. This might turn your child into a bully.

Once your kids go online, there are certain things you must frequently talk to them about, lest they forget. Do always remind your kids that Internet is a privilege given to them. If they abuse or misuse it, be firm and take that privilege away as a punishment. But don’t drive them to their friends’ phone or laptop. Divert their attention to other activities, family timeouts and hobbies. Return the privilege to them when you think they are ready for it. Establish a relationship of trust and mutual respect. It helps.

For more information, read my blog. And I do hope you have your parental controls on your security device turned on. If you don’t know about this wonderful facility to keep kids safe, check here. Trust me; having parental controls turned on is a blessing in disguise for parents like you and me.

Welcome a safer 2014 to your homes.

*Photo credit: carla arena (Used under the Creative Commons Attribution License.)


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