There is nothing more heart-breaking than reading an article about a child who tried to commit suicide or has had to change schools because they were being cyberbullied. Cyberbullying is a travesty that no child should have to face.
There is no denying that technology has become part of our personal and family life. Homework and school assignments, researching fun outdoor activities or connecting with friends and family have all become easier thanks to the Internet. But, there are potential risks to having an ‘online life’ – especially to children.
As parents, it can be hard to keep abreast of what is happening in the online world while also trying to juggle work and family time. Remember, the online world is open to everyone – this includes cyberbullies and cybercriminals – who are unfortunately very good at disguising themselves as ‘friends’ to your children. They know that children do not generally ask many questions when they receive communication on social media – and this is where the danger lies.
As such, parents need to talk to their children about their online activity and behaviour. It is important to find out what kind of groups your children are on (even gaming groups) and who they are chatting to. It is also critical to understand what kind of apps they are downloading on their devices (even on devices used solely for school purposes) – and to explain to them what they can do should they ever find themselves a victim of cybercrime or cyberbullying.
So, what tips can we offer as you navigate how to teach your children about their online behaviour?
Do not share personal details online – ever
Children sometimes get added onto group chats for school or other various reasons, where they don’t always know everyone personally in the chat. Explain to them that for this reason, they should never give out their home address or contacts details on the chat. When they go online, remind them that they also shouldn’t share their full names, home address, sensitive pictures or anything that is personal to them, without checking this with you – and give them clear guidelines as to why this is dangerous (all age appropriate). Unfortunately, the danger is that if this type of information is freely shared (without checking or knowing who you are talking to), cybercriminals or cyberbullies in the group or online can then use this and have been known to create a fake social media account(s). These accounts are used for various things – anything from trolling people to spreading fake news and even viruses.
Do not add people to online groups/chats that they do not know
As mentioned, the online world is open to everyone and anyone – and not knowing who your children are chatting to can be dangerous. Ask them about the groups they have joined and why they joined them. Ask them if they know all the members of the group, in terms of where they live, if they have mutual friends and what they talk about. Also, ask which schools these members go to, as feedback to these questions will give you a better understanding of their online behaviour and if they are being cyberbullied or not. Remind your children that they should never add someone they don’t know, and should they receive an invite from someone they do not know (if even these people claim to know their own friends), they must show you the invite for their own safety or delete/block their contacts straight away.
Provide advice on what to do if someone is trying to cyberbully them
When talking to your children about their online behaviour, be real with them about the realities of cyberbullying and that it can happen to anyone.
Provide an example of how this can happen, to ensure they understand what the risks are. Explain that in an instance where they receive a ‘weird’ or ‘rude’ message, they must show it to you – not because you are prying, but rather because you want to protect and help them through this. Show them how they can take a screenshot of this message and that after doing this, they then should block or delete the bully, to stop the bully from contacting them again.
Thereafter, they need to change their privacy settings. If the cyberbullying occurred on social media this would mean the privacy settings should go onto private instead of public. Do this with them, so you know who they are talking to and who can see their profiles. Tell your children that action must be taken against cyberbullying as it is a very real problem that we all need to speak up about to ensure their own safety and the safety of their friends.
Parenting is never an easy thing – and in the digital age it can be more difficult to navigate – as it’s not something many parents are familiar with. However, with a few tips and giving real advice and guidance, you can give your child the tools to manage this better. Just like how you would not let your young children cross the road without holding your hand; you should not let them be online without providing them with a guideline on how to behave online. Let’s keep our children safe online.