There is no denying that cyberbullying is a real problem that we are facing in our our schools, our communities and our homes. Tragic accounts of teens who have been tormented through social media, emails, texts or instant messages are only a click away and will produce pages of results.
It is a difficult situation that we all must educate ourselves about.
But as parents, what are we being told is our role in preventing cyberbullying? According to the National Crime Prevention Council, there are several things parents can do to stop cyberbullying. For example, you can place your computer in a busy area of the house. You can acquire all your children's usernames and passwords. You can ask them who their friends are on every site they belong to. There are entire lists and articles encouraging parents to utilize filters, parental monitoring software and tracking mechanisms to stop cyberbullying.
Essentially, our role as parents is to spy on our kids until the problem stops.
Well the problem isn't stopping. Probably because we are focusing on the wrong part of the word. "Cyber" is scary to many parents, something they might not be knowledgeable about or comfortable using. "Cyber" is where parents are encouraged to place their efforts, as if we can control this gigantic atmosphere of information. And yes, the Internet has changed the face of bullying to something that can extend beyond the schoolyard and can occur 24/7 in a non-physical realm. Cyberbullying may look different than the type of bullying we grew up with, but it is still the same problem we've been dealing with for decades, just a new variation. But stopping our teen's Internet use is not the solution.
Not to mention it is not even close to feasible. You can monitor your child's screen time, you can refuse them devices, you can restrict their social media usage (when they are around you) and you can spy on them all you want, but they will never live in a world without the web. (97% of middle school students surveyed had been online in the last 30 days.) Not to mention, bullying is still more likely to happen at school than it is online. Teens can hide behind an online persona, but most likely they are going to be the same person offline as they are online.
So as committed, loving and determined parents who want to do something to help, what should we be doing about cyberbullying? Here is a place to start.
What we do know about the word bullying is that it often happens because of differences. This study in Washington State found a prevalent connection between bullying and perceived sexual orientation of victims. National research tells us that children with a disability or special health need are also at risk. Ethnic minorities are also at a heightened risk, especially Asian-American students.
If you want to prevent cyberbullying, let's start with talking about the teens we are raising, instead of the technology they are using.
Instead of monitoring what sites our children have access to, we should monitor what groups our children have access to. Do they know people who have a different religion, or skin color, or sexual orientation, or physical abilities than they do? Are you modeling for them that these differences should be appreciated instead of put down?
Instead of grilling our children about who their friends are online, let's start with asking an even bigger question: Who at your school doesn't have any friends? Who is sitting by themselves at lunch? Who is getting picked on in the hallways or in the virtual realm? And most importantly, ask if they have any ideas how they could make life better for those people, even if only for a moment.
Instead of filtering content that our children can access, let's start filtering our own words, decisions and actions in their presence. The definition of bullying talks about unwanted, aggressive behavior from someone who has more power than you do. As parents, who are in a position of power over our own children; let's make sure we are speaking to them about this topic, and all other topics, in the same way we want them to conduct themselves when they have power over a person.
That way shouldn't consist only of restrictions, negativity and distrust.
Let's change what part of the word we are focusing on with cyberbullying.