Did you know that 37% of young people between the ages of 12 and 17 report having been bullied online, and 30% say it\’s happened more than once? Many parents don’t realize that bullying peaks in 6th grade and tapers off as kids get older, so parents of tweens and younger teens may have more cause for concern. The good news? Experts agree that parental supervision and support are teens’ best bet for preventing or putting a stop to bullying. Here’s how you can start a caring conversation with your teen.
Know the Basics
Make sure you and your teen are familiar with cyberbullying behaviors and the online spaces where they occur. Stopbullying.gov defines cyberbullying as “bullying that takes place over digital devices like cell phones, computers, and tablets… through SMS, Text, and apps, or online in social media, forums, or gaming where people can view, participate in, or share content. Cyberbullying includes sending, posting, or sharing negative, harmful, false, or mean content about someone else. It can include sharing personal or private information about someone else causing embarrassment or humiliation.” A defining feature of bullying is that it is intentionally hurtful and repetitive.
Because cyberbullying starts early, parents should be prepared as soon as kids start using digital devices. Let your child know that the privilege of a cell phone or social media comes with responsibilities, and you’ll be supervising to ensure their safety. Set ground rules about when and how devices can be used, which apps and games are ok, how you’ll keep track of login information and passwords, and what they can expect in terms of you checking their devices.
Get Familiar with Their Media and Tech
Commonsensemedia.org is an independent nonprofit providing media- and tech-related support to families and schools. Their website is a great resource for digital safety, with detailed information in their Parents’ Ultimate Guides to everything from Minecraft and TikTok to PlayStation. Read up on parental controls and learn how different platforms protect privacy and prevent cyberbullying. The more you know, the more you’ll be equipped to partner with your teen in making sure they stay safe.
Speaking of Privacy…
One of the most common forms of cyberbullying is the unauthorized sharing of personal texts, photos, videos, or other private information. Talk to your teen about ways others might infringe on their privacy. It’s an unfortunate truth that anything shared online is no longer private, and once something is out there, it’s impossible to control. Help teens think through the consequences so they can make informed choices about who to trust and what’s safe to share.
Put a Plan in Place
Talk to your teen about what you’ll do if they encounter cyberbullying and create a plan together. Consider how they might respond to different bullying behaviors, when a direct response is appropriate, and when it\’s time to block the bully or ask for help. Talk about ways you can support them and provide resources, and when it’s time to get schools or law enforcement involved. Most kids don’t tell their parents when they’re being bullied. Having a plan you’re both on board with is the best way to be prepared.
Empower Teens to be “Upstanders”
Bullies, online or IRL, try to isolate their targets. That’s possible when others see the bullying but don’t take action; they make a choice to be bystanders. Upstanders are people who choose to act, either by addressing the bully, sticking up for the target, or getting help. Talk to your teen about how to safely stand up to bullies so they feel empowered to take action. Knowing how to be an Upstander will help them protect themselves and contribute to an anti-bullying online culture.
Technology is here to stay, but it doesn’t have to be a scary space. Proactive parents stay informed, set realistic rules, and communicate compassionately… the best approach to keeping teens safe as they explore online.