Unfortunately Cyber-Bullying has been making headlines all over the news. This is a disturbing trend and as the use of electronic devices, communications and social media  continues to grow, the sad truth is that this problem isn’t going away.

I originally published this article on my old website. Some recent casework made me think about it.  I’ve updated the article some but I really want to stress how important it is that you know WHAT you kids are doing online.

What is Cyber-Bullying?

Cyber-Bullying is the use of electronic devices and communication programs to threaten, harass, belittle and otherwise bully people.  Cyber-Bullying is most often associated with kids and teenagers.  However — adults can be victims too.

Most of us remember the phrase “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me”.  While great for teaching your kids to brush off the occasional taunt on the playground; Cyber-Bullying takes these playground taunts to another level.

For starters, Cyber-Bullying NEVER goes away.  In the past when a kid felt like they were having a bad time at school or maybe just one class period, they at least had the relief that the day or class would end.  At some point the child would get a break from the taunting.

With Cyber-Bullying the messages and taunts are spoken (typed) once and forever etched in Cyberspace.  The victim of Cyber-Bullying will see any one taunt over and over and over again.  All it takes is opening their phone or computer or loading a social media site and it’s waiting for them like a little stalker.

And then mob mentality kicks in.  Kids (and some adults) want to feel like they fit in. Everyone starts piling on.  What started as a single taunt from one person to another is now forever etched in cyberspace as a wall of insults and taunts from multiple sources.  Suddenly the victim feels like it’s the world against them and it can’t be escaped.

Preventing Cyber-Bullying

The best piece of advice that can be given is for parents to become involved in their kids’ electronic lives.  It’s amazing how quickly children will adapt to and use new technologies, even ones that their parents might not even be aware exists.  Most parents are familiar with texting and social media sites like Facebook. But how many parents have heard of, SnapChat, KiK, WhatsApp, Tinder or <insert flavor of the month social media app>?  It can be overwhelming for non-technically inclined parents to keep up with their kids online activities and habits.

If you are a parent of a child that use electronic devices on a regular basis here is some advice to get you started on how to deal with these issues before they happen.

Find a good time to talk to your child about their online habits and usage. Make sure this is NOT a 5 minute conversation. Make sure you have a good chunk of time to dedicate to this. If you are ever asked any of these questions YOU should be able to answer them for your kid:

  1. Find out how your child uses their electronic device — make sure you know about their cell phone habits as well as their computer habits.
  2. Ask your child how often they communicate with other people that they know. Who are they talking to the most? What apps are they using to communicate?
  3. Ask you child if they ever communicated with someone they don’t know online. If they do this should be a major red flag. Find out who they are talking to and how often.
  4. Ask you child what communication apps they use and if there is anything new, like an app, that they are using. How many people are using it? How long have they been using it for?

Know your kids’ Passwords

If you have a child that uses electronic devices in your home make sure you know EVERY password that the child uses to every device, account and service.  Sometimes this can feel a bit creepy, like you are invading your kids space.  But remember, YOU ARE THE PARENT. You are responsible for your child’s safety and well being.  If it makes you and your child feel better about it, have the child write all the passwords on a piece of paper and put it in a sealed envelope.  That way if you need to access the information both you and your child can tell when the seal of envelope has been broken.

Monitor the Devices

Make sure that any computer or device is open for regular inspection by you. In the past the advice was to always put the computer in a common area of the house.  Now with smartphones being just as capable of accessing the internet this isn’t always easy.  If you want to look through your kids phones or computers you should be able to at any moment.  If the child resist or throws a tantrum remind them that the device usage is a privilege.

If your child uses social media, insist that they “friend” you. Sometimes kids think it’s not cool to be Internet friends with their parents.  An alternative to this could be to have an account that isn’t your main account (or your name).  Name of distant related cousins are good alternatives.

If you notice a change in your kids’ behavior, especially after using or prolonged use of an electronic device, get suspicious.  FIND OUT WHY.   If needed, make a period of time during the day that the electronic world is not to be used, or limit the usage of devices to X amount of time a day.

Keep the lines of Communication Open

Make sure your kids know that it is ok to report if they or someone they know is being Cyber-bullied to either you or an authority figure.

Ask for Help

Parenting is hard.  You aren’t supposed to have all of the answers . If you need help in monitoring or examining your child’s computer or mobile device, please contact us.  We keep up with the latest trends and technologies.  Its important to find out what your kids have been doing with their mobile devices or computers.  We have methods to pull deleted information from computers and devices that your children may be trying to cover up or hide from you.  We know all the little quirky apps that data can be recovered from.

If you feel that your child is in danger, please call the police, a therapist or a school counselor.

Mark Davis, Ph.D. CISSP, CCFP