How to keep your children safe from cyberbullies

As a psychotherapist, I’ve worked with many children and parents who’ve found themselves at the mercy of cyberbullies. The abuse is more common and unrelenting than you might think.

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According to the CyberSmile Foundation, 55% of children in 2015 had experienced online bullying, but if you need more evidence just look at the increase in awareness events. November is Anti-Bullying month, with a ‘Cyberbullying and E-Safety’ themed week. February hosts Stand Up to Bullying and the Safer Internet Day. In June, there’s Stop Cyberbullying Day, too, plus many more.

Even with all this publicity, it’s remarkable how few of us really know how to prevent digital abuse when it’s harming children in the real world. I believe having conversations about cyberbullying is part of the solution, but parents must stay one step-ahead of the bullies (and the kids) to ensure their children are engaging in healthy online relationships.

Words are stronger than actions

A simple question such as ‘did you see anything interesting online today?’ helps to define the spaces they’re exploring and who they’re talking to. You can also assess your children’s emotional and empathic intelligence. For example, do they understand the impact of their own comments? And, can they tell the difference between bullying and assertiveness?

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As well as having these conversations, software can also step in to help kids stay safe online. For example K9 software blocks keywords and sites you don’t think your children should be exposed to, and Kidlogger monitors and captures their activity on the computer including conversations in Skype and imports from a USB.

But it’s not all Big Brother. New technology is also emerging that utilises big data from social media platforms. OnlineThem monitors your child’s Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts – notably, with your child’s consent and with the proviso that you talk about online safety as a family – and sends reports and flags abusive, radical and sexual conversations, and if your child is in danger or suspected of being bullied.

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Regardless of the technology, if your child is cyberbullied it’s impossible to confirm harassment if you can’t see the messages. Encourage your children to keep any bullying correspondence – even if it’s upsetting – so you can review inappropriate behaviour and share it with other parents, teachers or the police.

How will a child react to your help?

Your attempts to help might receive a frosty reception. Kids can be defensive, aggressive, indifferent, ambivalent or even accepting, and it’s likely you’ll be emotional too, so keep calm and stick to these five steps:
1. Seek further clarity about what’s happening
2. Give your child time to calm down and express themselves.
3. Make it clear you are not attacking or accusing
4. Give the child space to explore the feelings and thoughts they have.
5. Follow up with observations about changes in their behaviour.
If you notice anything out of the ordinary in their behaviour, such as adjusted routines, interesting in blocking numbers, secrecy, increased illness or anxiety, start investigating and seek assistance. This toolkit will also help to help safeguard your family against the dangers of cyberbullying, too.

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