Be Aware: No Vacation for Cyberbullies
Summer vacation is well underway for kids and though we, as parents, try to provide plenty of fun summer activities for them, this is the time of year when kids have little standing between them and their screen-of-choice. And unfortunately, it’s just as true for cyberbullies as it is for their victims. While summer vacation was once a time when kids could get away from those that bullied them, that’s now changed.
Being bullied can feel both embarrassing and hurtful. As a result, a lot of kids lie about it and act as though nothing is wrong. This doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t trust you or feel like they can’t talk to you. If anything, it means that they’re feeling vulnerable and sad. Regardless of whether or not your kids tell you that they are being bullied, you need to start a conversation with them, or continue the one you’ve started, because there are a few things they need to know to do if a cyberbully harasses them. This is what you need to discuss with your kids:
- Tell them not to respond. Bullies are looking for a reaction. Don’t give them the satisfaction of knowing that what they said had the desired effect or that you even read it.
- Teach your kids how to take a screenshot of the offensive message. It is important to have evidence of the abuse that you can show a parent, teacher or another trusted adult.
- Help them to block the bully on all social media accounts. If you know who the bully is, you can go through your accounts and block them. And if you have their email address, you may be able to block accounts of theirs that you were not yet aware of.
- Have your kids take a break from their screens. While they may not be too fond of this idea at first, if you provide them with fun alternatives (like sports, camps, or volunteer work) and start with a manageable window of time (maybe only a week at first), this could be a fun challenge for them.
Be aware that if you block a bully, they can make a new account. It’s important to know that on sites or apps where you have to accept a request to connect, all you have to make sure your child does is to ignore incoming requests from those they do not know in person.
Be sure to remember that encouraging a break from screens does not mean cutting your kids off from connecting with their friends. It’s important for kids, especially kids struggling with bullying, to maintain strong relationships with their friends over these long vacations. Be sure that channels of communication between your child and their friends remain open. Organize sleepovers, a weekend hike for your kid and their friends, go swimming, play mini-golf, find a rock-climbing gym. There are any number of fun, screen-free activities that your child and their friends can do together.
Anyone can be the victim of bullying (virtual or otherwise) so even if you don’t think your child is being bullied, it is still important to talk to them so they know what to do or in case they see someone being bullied. For the talk to be effective, you have to actively work to build a relationship of trust with your kids so they know that you will listen. Sometimes that will require you to breathe deep, not overreact, and instead keep quiet and hug your kids after they’ve shared what’s on their mind. Sometimes, that might be harder to do than these four steps.