As the days get colder and shorter, kids are spending more time indoors and online. While it may be easy to say “no electronics” – we know that’s not always realistic for parents of kids in the digital age. While we might monitor closely the online activities of very young children, as they get older, kids have more freedom and more access to electronics. Just as we talk to kids about how to stand up to bullying IRL (in real life), we also need to talk to them about how to stay safe – and how to keep their friends safe – online.
(Throughout this article, we have included videos created by Boys and Girls Club members on the topic of Cyberbullying)
A major challenge with online communication versus schoolyard behaviour is that when we are online the perpetrators are often anonymous. Bullying behaviour in person can often (although not always) be noticed and addressed by an adult – and the root cause of the behaviour can be identified. Not so with an online aggressor. An online “bully” can be anything from a school mate displaying many of the same behaviours as they would in person – to an adult predator interested in much more dangerous acts.
Talk to your kids about what they are doing online. It’s difficult to stay current on every platform, app and game (yes, even the boring and seemingly pointless Minecraft) they are using, but it’s necessary for us to ensure their safety.
Start the conversation by talking about cyberbullying in kid-friendly language:
Cyberbullying is when someone sends you mean messages on the computer or cell phone. Sometimes one kid will do this. Sometimes a group of kids will do this. It can happen one time or lots of times. You might not even know who is doing it. Some examples of cyberbullying are: posting hateful comments about other people on websites, blogs, through text messaging and instant messaging, stealing passwords and sending out threatening emails or instant messages, embarrassing others through name-calling, gossiping, spreading rumours.*
As a child’s age, maturity, and online activity dictates, a conversation about online predators can follow.
An online predator is an Internet user who exploits vulnerable people, usually for sexual or financial purposes. Adolescents and the elderly are most often the victims of online predators. Online victimization of minors can include requests to engage in sexual activities or discussions by an adult; unwanted exposure to sexual material; online harassment, threats or other aggressive communications that are not sexual in nature but cause distress, fear or embarrassment.*
Tips for handling cyberbullying and online predators:
Often, it’s up to young people themselves to protect themselves and address threats online as incidents often occur out of the view of adults. It’s up to us to help arm kids and teens with the awareness and tools they need to protect themselves and their peers.
- Guard your contact information. Don’t give people you don’t know your cell phone number or e-mail address. Don’t accept friend requests from strangers.
- Take a stand against cyber bullying with your peers. Speak out whenever you see someone being mean to another person online. Most kids respond better to criticism from their peers than to disapproval from adults.
- If you are being harassed online, take the following actions immediately:
- Tell an adult you trust – a teacher, Boys and Girls Club staff, parent/guardian, older sibling or grandparent/guardian.
- If you are being harassed, leave the area or stop the activity (i.e. messaging platform, online gaming)
- If you are being bullied through e-mail, text or messaging, block the sender’s messages. Never reply to harassing messages.
- Save any harassing messages and forward them to the platform admin (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat). Most service providers have appropriate use policies that restrict users from harassing others over the Internet – and that includes kids!
- If the bullying includes physical threats, tell the police as well.*
*From the Take It EASY Program Manual, Boys and Girls Clubs of Canada.
Need help, support or resources for talking to your kids or teens about online safety? Boys and Girls Club staff can help.