Prevent Cyberbullying

When talking with Imelda De La Cruz, LCSW, Family Therapist, about cyberbullying and what skills we can teach kids she talked about the importance of being a good digital citizen. “Every person has value and the way we behave in online spaces should show we believe everyone is valuable. Being a good digital citizen means showing respect, having integrity, and knowing that what you say – in a comment or post – has an impact on the person on the other side of the screen,” shared Imelda. She went on to say, “we want to teach kids to speak up when they see something that looks like bullying and have a trusted adult they can talk to if someone is sending them harassing or inappropriate messages.” To help, we asked Imelda to share some tips on what preventative measures we can take to keep kids safe online and what skills we can teach kids to help them successfully navigate digital spaces in recognition of Bullying Prevention Month.

Creating Safety Rules

We’re all accustomed to safety rules around play or activities, like swimming, digital spaces should be no different. Creating safety rules for your family can include:

  • Talking with your kids about what is ok to share online and what is not ok to share, including age, location, what school they attend, etc.
  • Discussing your values – like respect, integrity, or honesty. And discuss your expectations for how your child will behave in online spaces.
  • Identifying when to talk with an adult about something someone has sent them in a direct message or if they see something inappropriate.
  • Recognizing that what you say online, can stay online. There is a permanency to digital content.
  • Setting screen time limits. This can include turning in devices at a certain time or building screentime into your routine, so your child knows when to expect it.

If your child comes to you and tells you about a message they received that is troublesome, try and remain calm. Take a breath. Thank them for telling you and review your safety rules together. Then, you can determine the next steps, depending on the content.

Implementing Boundaries

Boundaries keep kids safe and can help children feel secure. “It is important that we create protections for children. You have choices and can choose products or create boundaries to allow your kids to have access to a phone while keeping them safe.” Imelda shared. Imelda mentioned there are phones available that don’t have internet or apps and work only to call or text. And there are settings on devices to turn them off at a certain time, or block certain sites, etc.

Creating Positive Self-Worth

Girl in headphones on a tablet

Ensuring your child has a positive view of themselves is valuable for every child. “It’s important to let the child know they are important. They are valued. Their experiences and perspective matter,” Imelda said. Even 10 minutes of focused time together can make a huge difference. Imelda shared, “when you can give your child some individual time that builds your relationship with your child. They get to feel special and you’re building trust.” This time could be in the car as you drive together or something you name “Dad and Johnny Time” and you let Johnny pick what you do for 10 minutes.

Learn About Your Child’s Digital Hobbies

If your child enjoys gaming or other digital hobbies that you’re not familiar with, ask them to teach you about their game. You could say something like “I know you like gaming, and I want to know about the games you like. Tell me what makes this fun? Can you teach me how it works?” This is a great way to take an interest in your child and learn about what they value. It allows you to connect, have some individual one-on-one time, and see if there are some areas where you might need additional safeguards, like online chats with anyone versus chats with only approved friends.

Skills to Teach Your Kids

Teaching kids about digital safety is not just a conversation, we need to teach kids a skill. How can I identify there is a problem and then how do I ask for help, or can I resolve this problem on my own?” Imelda shared. For example, if someone continues to send mean messages to your child, modeling with them how you would react to receiving the message and then go to a trusted adult for help. You can roleplay to help your child practice and understand what to say if they receive inappropriate messages or see something that looks like cyberbullying. One of the sites Imelda likes to share with families is Kid Power, which has a list of 10 actions to stop and prevent cyberbullying.

Signs of Cyberbullying

Phones, tablets, and online games have become much more common, and unfortunately cyberbullying can be a part of digital life. If you notice your child has a sudden change in their mood, behavior, eating, or sleeping patterns, it is a sign that you should investigate further to see what has changed for your child. If a child in your life experiences cyberbullying, remind them they are not alone. You’ll figure this out together. Schools, sports teams, and other organizations have policies when it comes to bullying so take screenshots and reach out to the administration, or those in charge, to create a plan.

During Bullying Prevention Month, discuss what cyberbullying is with the kids in your life and create a safety plan for phones and digital devices.