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Protecting Children from Cyberbullying and Online Predators


Protecting Children from Cyberbullying and Online Predators

Online activities give children and teenagers limitless ways to connect, share, learn, and explore. They also expose children to risks and dangers, from potential predators to bullies. For this reason, it’s vital to teach your child to make good decisions online. New risks arise as technology and social media use evolve, and parents must keep up to date with these developments and have ongoing conversations with their children about ways to stay safe online.

Cyberbullying is defined as, intentional harm that is implemented online or via any means of electronic communication that happens repeatedly. It’s important to understand what cyberbullying is, in order to start having open and informative conversations with your child about it.

Talking with your child about cyberbullying

Most children and teenagers who are bullied or feel threatened online don’t tell an adult. Some are afraid their parents will make the situation worse by confronting the bully, calling the school, or contacting the bully’s parents. Others fear that they’ll lose internet privileges. Yet children need adults to help them deal with these experiences, as they can often be emotionally devastating. There is no right or wrong way to do this—start by having an open conversation and gently listen. If you feel more concerned, you can reach out to a counsellor or therapist for guidance.

Warning signs that your child is being cyberbullied

The warning signs that your child is being cyberbullied may include the following behaviours:

  • They become withdrawn, anxious, and worried
  • They don’t want to go out and see friends
  • They are constantly on their phones
  • They complain of being unwell so they can stay off school
  • They feel depressed and down.

Your child may not show these signs; however, if you are worried, don’t hesitate to reach out for support. You know your child more than anyone, so trust your instincts with this. Experts recommend having ongoing conversations with children about online safety. Here are some talking points:

Ask if your child has ever had a problem with online bullies. If your child experiences online bullying, urge them to tell a trusted adult—you, another relative, or a teacher.

Tell your child to never share their password with anyone except you. Even a close friend might give the password to someone else or use it against your child if they have an argument.

Instruct your child to ignore anyone who bothers them online. They should not argue with or respond in any way to the online bully. Fighting back makes it worse. Tell your child to block the bully or log off.

Remind your child to be respectful to others online. Children who are aggressive online are more than twice as likely to be victimised themselves. Remind your child not to make rude comments online or post something that could hurt someone’s feelings. Online fights can quickly escalate and take on a life of their own if unkind comments and insults are forwarded for others to see. Tell your child not to get involved in an online conversation that has become heated.

If your child experiences cyberbullying, document the incident. Take a screenshot of the exchange or print it out. This may be helpful if it becomes necessary to report the event. If it’s too late to get a screenshot or printout, write down the date and time of message.

Most children and teenagers who are bullied or feel threatened online don’t tell an adult.

If cyberbullying seems to be affecting your child’s emotional wellbeing, seek professional help. Talk with your child about the effect it’s having on them. A counsellor or therapist can help address your child’s concerns. You can search for a private therapist who specializes in working with children or contact your child’s school to see if there are school counsellors available.

If your child is the bully

Realizing your child is a bully can be extremely hard to hear, and tempting to deny and ignore. However, if you suspect they are bullying, it is important that you step in right away as there could be serious consequences for your child, such as being criminalized for child pornography if they have shared explicit pictures online of friends or forwarded a picture of someone they know. In other extreme cases, a bully can be criminally charged if the person who was cyberbullied completes suicide.

Preventing your child from becoming a bully

Bullying is a sign that a child is hurting inside. It is important that you get extra support for you and your child. You can talk to their school or reach out to a counsellor.

Experts have come up with ways to reduce instances of bullying in communities, schools, and at home. The Olweus Prevention Program has been rolled out internationally and there are important foundations that you can incorporate in your home. The 4 core principles recommend that parents and caregivers should adopt a caring and warm environment where the child feels supported while at the same time, have firm boundaries that have appropriate consequences if the child engages in unacceptable behaviour. You can read more about them here.

Keeping your child safe from predators

Most parents worry about their child being groomed by online predators. Internet Matters describe grooming as “people befriending children to take advantage of them for sexual purposes.” This conduct can begin by talking to your child anonymously or pretending to be their age or using a fake picture. This can escalate by subtly talking about sex, then asking for selfies or nude pictures. Your child may not realize they are being groomed, thinking they have found a genuine friend or boyfriend/girlfriend, and not understand the consequences of sending personal pictures to strangers online.

Here are some tips to help keep your child safe from online predators:

Monitor what your child is doing online. Know which sites, apps, and games your child is using and review their privacy settings periodically.

Tell your child to never give out personal information to strangers online. This includes last name, address, phone number, email, school, and sports teams.

Tell your child to never send pictures to strangers online.

“. . . stay on top of what your kid is doing online by asking them which apps, games, and other tech they use. If they're on social media, friend or follow them.”
—Common Sense Media

Tell your child to block anyone they’ve met online if anything about the interaction makes them uncomfortable. Children can very quickly find themselves in over their heads if they flirt or engage in talk or activity with a stranger that becomes sexual in nature.

Be sure your child knows it’s never OK for an adult to strike up an online friendship with a minor. Say that if an adult wants to meet in person or makes sexual advances, your child should tell you right away. Reassure your child that you won’t be angry or take away their online privileges.

Explain firmly and repeatedly that your child should never agree to meet someone they only know online. Ask your child to always come to you if a stranger asks to meet, and to never meet with a stranger in person.

If you are concerned about your child, sit down, and talk to them. Let them know your concerns and that you are open and receptive to theirs. Trust your instincts and don’t ignore this important situation. You can reach out to your assistance program for further support and advice too.

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