Saying technology changed everything is a bit of an understatement, right?
Let’s think back to when we were kids and how different everything was. We grew up with cassette tapes and CDs. We only had a limited number of minutes on our first cell phone plan. MySpace and Facebook were the only social media platforms around.
Now, just a few decades later, those things have evolved into the technology we experience today.
The same applies to bullying.
Bullying isn’t limited to school hallways. It’s moved online and reaches wherever there is internet access. Any time your kid picks up their smartphone and enters the virtual world, bullying can be just one click, one message, or one post away. Even worse, it affects kids more than ever now that it's happening online.
Nearly 60% of American teens report they’ve been cyberbullied.
So scary, right?
It’s tempting to blame social media sites and lump them all together as posing the same risk to kids, but that just isn’t true. The rate at which kids experience bullying online changes by platform:
79% of kids on YouTube
69% of kid on Snapchat
64% of kids on TikTok
and so on.
Now here’s where the rubber meets the road. Cyber bullying is happening at alarming rates and affecting kids everywhere they go online. Yet, here's the problem.
Only 11% of kids report bullying to their parents.
Think about it another way. Parents didn’t know their kid was experiencing online bullying nearly 90% of the time. That’s a big problem!
It might sound tempting to get rid of your kid’s smartphone and cancel all their social media. Yet, as well-intentioned as this is, it doesn’t solve the problem. Your kid can still experience traditional bullying at school and they’re likely to face feelings of humiliation and exclusion for being the only one without a smartphone.
In other words, there’s no way to ever eliminate the chance of bullying, both online and in person.
So what do we do about it?
Implement a 3-step approach to cyberbullying.
It’s time to gather up all your kids who are online and have an honest talk. Leave the panic at the door; it’s not going to be useful in this situation. Instead, it’s important to be open about the risks and lay out a game plan for what to do BEFORE cyberbullying becomes a problem.
1) Don’t engage.
We know how hard this will sound to your kid. It’s a natural response to fight back when someone is spreading lies or attacking with hurtful words. They might even believe that engaging with this person online will stop the bullying.
This isn’t the truth because engaging with a cyberbully actually opens your kid up to MORE risk.
Rather than making the situation better, the response will either anger or encourage the bully. If it angers them, the bully will escalate their online bullying. If it encourages them, they’ll continue to use online harassment again your kid because they know that it’s having the intended effect. Either way, this could cause the person to take the bullying onto even more platforms or becoming increasingly aggressive.
Whatever the result, your kid never comes out as the winner.
As hard as it is, the first step to fighting a bully is to stay disengaged. Even in the heat of the moment or when the words sting the most, teach your kid that engaging with their tormentor is just playing further into their hand.
2) Tell someone they trust.
As parents, we know this step seems obvious. Our kids know how much we love them so they should feel safe coming to us, right?
The facts say otherwise. Remember, we already covered the fact that only 11% of kids will report cyberbullying to their parents. As difficult as this is to accept, there are two reasons why it happens.
First, bullies are experts at making their victims feel insecure. Through their attacks, they chip away at your kid’s self-worth, causing them to doubt whether their pain matters to anyone. The research shows that this is overwhelmingly the case because 66% of kids felt worse about themselves after being victimized online. As a result, your kid may be tempted to not say anything because their sense of self-worth has suffered such a significant blow and they may feel embarrassed to say anything to you.
Second, your kid may fear the consequences of telling you about their bullying. Yes, you read that right. They may fear that they won’t be taken seriously and the pain of this thought can keep them silent. Some kids might feel being cyberbullied is somehow their fault and worry they will lose their phone or suffer similar consequences if they speak up about their bullying.
The greatest defense you have is to talk openly with your child about what they can expect if they tell you about being bullied.
Remind them that you will take their complaint seriously. Address the core insecurity the bully has planted in their heads by reassuring them that their feelings and experiences ALWAYS have value to you.
Relieve them of any guilt they may feel as a result of being bullied. In these situations, your kid is the victim and what’s happening to them isn’t their fault. Explicitly state this and take time to build up your kid’s sense of self-worth by reminding them that no one deserves to be treated like this.
Assure them that there won’t be any negative consequences if they are bullied. Address that fear by explaining that getting you involved doesn’t mean they will lose their phone but will provide them with a powerful ally as they go through the painful experience.
3) Save evidence of the bullying.
Let’s be honest. The ability to unsend messages, both texts and dms, has suddenly made our lives a whole lot harder. Whatever blind spots we had before have just been amplified as this change has rolled out.
This doesn’t just affect us as parents. It affects any kids experiencing cyberbullying.
Think about it.
Someone can erase any evidence implicating them as a bully with just one tap.
When it becomes time to escalate the situation and report the problem to your kid’s school or the authorities, you’ve just lost your most important tool. Instead of having the concrete evidence you need, the conversation disintegrates into a “he said, she said” debate that gets nowhere. If you come armed with screenshots, you have a powerful tool in the fight to protect your kid and stop the bully.
This is also where you need to educate your kid about the importance of being proactive. It’s vital that your kid screenshot and save evidence of bullying the moment it happens to them. Bullies thrive on the feeling of power that they get from harassing someone online and it’s highly likely that they’re targeting multiple victims at once. By speaking up and bringing evidence forward, your kid protects themself AND any other current or potential victims of this bully.
With these 3 steps in mind, start the conversation about cyberbullying early and repeat it often.
Remember, there’s no way to truly insulate our kids from bullying, even if we gave them a phone that only allows calls and texts. The solution isn’t reactivity and fear. Rather, the greatest defense you have is to discuss the topic openly and lay the groundwork to ensure your kid feels safe to immediately tell you about any bullying. Let’s take steps to be in that 11% who know what’s going on instead of letting our kids suffer alone.
Bonus tip: be even more proactive with the Aqua One smartphone!
With the Aqua One, nothing is hidden from you because every action your kid takes on the phone is mirrored in your Parent Dashboard. Stop worrying about your kid suffering in silence or stressing over deleted and unsent messages. The Aqua One smartphone gives you full confidence because you can see exactly what is happening in your kid’s online word at any time.