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Cyberbullying prevention tips: Online bullies don't take holidays off

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With the holidays here it means more screen time for teens.

Learning that your teenager has been the target of bullies is both heartbreaking and infuriating. The discovery that your child is party to the torment and agony of a classmate, however, can be even worse. No parent wants to believe that a child they've raised could be so cruel, but the truth is that bullying is a very real problem.

More kids than you might think can be involved in the bullying of their peers, and the practice is not constrained to only the "bad" kids. Even good kids can find themselves swept up in the mob mentality that leads to bullying and harassment. The most effective weapon in a parent's arsenal is simple prevention. Stopping such behavior before it begins is imperative, especially online.

The Internet has changed not only the way that kids learn and interact with the world, but also the way that they bully their less popular classmates. It wasn't all that long ago when kids who were bullied could at least enjoy something of a respite when they were away from school grounds.

In today's always-connected world, a group of committed bullies can make sure that the torment is incessant. Cyberbullying is insidious and overwhelming, leaving young victims feeling as if they have no way to escape their tormentors. Making sure that your child is not part of this growing group of cyberbullying teens will require a bit of work and dedication, but it's far from an impossible task.

Monitor Your Teen's Web Presence

There is a fine line between respecting your teen's privacy and willfully turning a blind eye to their online antics. It's important to provide your child with some semblance of privacy and independence, but it's equally important to make sure that you're aware of their habits. Friend or follow your child on their social media sites or have them accept a friend request from a trusted adult. Remember that your teenagers' brains are not fully developed, regardless of how mature they may seem at times. Your kids need guidance, and they need you to keep an eye on their online behavior. This will not only prevent them from becoming either the target or the perpetrator of cyberbullying, but also ensures that they're not engaging in unsafe activities that could make them the target of online predators.

Be Conscious of Cell Phone Usage

It seems like modern teens always have a smartphone in their hands. These mobile devices make it easy for kids to stay connected with their peers and explore social interactions, but they also present an almost constant opportunity for cyberbullying. Talk to your teens about how some messages and actions can be construed as bullying, but also make a point of establishing an "open phone" policy. Make sure your kids know that you will monitor their phone use and that any indications of bullying will be met with a zero-tolerance policy.

Talk About Bullying

All too often, parents assume that their teens know what bullying is and know better than to engage in such behavior. The truth is that bullying is a complex problem, stemming largely from the fact that some teens don't realize that what they're doing is bullying. Make sure that your teens understand that there's much more to bullying than simply taunting someone at school or being physically violent. Establish an open line of communication about bullying, making sure that your teens are well informed on the issue. Encourage kids to not only abstain from bullying, but to take an active stance against bullying behavior from their friends and peers.

Consider Your Own Behavior

Just as teens can have a skewed perception of bullying, so can their parents. Think about the language you use during discussions about harassing or bullying behavior. If you've held a stance asserting that bullying is the result of "kids being kids," you're sending a message of tacit approval to your children. Realize that bullying is more than roughing someone up for their lunch money, and that it's a very serious issue for today's teenagers.

Online harassment and bullying can have tragic results, and is never just "kids being kids." Consider the attitudes you're modeling for your teens and whether or not you've been inadvertently sending the message that online bullying isn't all that serious. Even when your kids become teenagers and seem to disregard your actions and opinions, they're still looking to you for cues as to how they should react in a given situation. Make sure the message you're sending is one that openly disdains bullying it all its forms.

Resources: White Fence, StopBullying.gov, StopCyberbullying.org

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