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New School, New Friends, New … Bullies? How to Protect Against Cyberbullying

 

Moving to a new school can be a scary experience. Making new friends is challenging, and it’s normal for a kid to worry she won’t fit in. But while your child might worry about finding her locker or making friends, there’s another concern that likely hasn’t crossed her mind or yours: Cyberbullying.

Cyberbullying has changed the shape of schoolyard bullying. Rather than escaping to a loving family at the end of the school day, kids are followed home by bullies on smartphones and computers. When your child is the new kid at school, she’s especially vulnerable to becoming a victim of this pernicious form of bullying.

As a parent, you want nothing more than to protect your child and ensure she has a good experience at her new school. While you can’t always prevent cyberbullying, you nonetheless have an important role to play. Here’s what you need to do to keep your child safe from cyberbullying.

1. Educate
In order to recognize cyberbullying, you need to know what it is. Learn about the forms cyberbullying can take, like making Facebook groups dedicated to bullying, spreading rumors via text message, or even hacking a victim’s social media accounts to pose as her.

Educate yourself on the dangers of cyberbullying. While all forms of bullying are harmful to a child’s self-esteem, unlike face-to-face bullying, kids can’t escape cyberbullying when they come home from school. Cyberbullying can happen 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and unlike spoken words, the hurtful messages stick around. And since online activity is often anonymous, bullies can harass their victims with little fear of punishment. That leaves bullied kids feeling powerless and unable to protect themselves.

2. Stay Informed
Make a habit of talking to your child about her activity online. Find out what sites she likes to visit and why, and monitor approximately how much time she’s spending online. Rather than immediately turning to parental control software, aim to establish a relationship of honesty, transparency, and trust. It’s important that your child feels she can come to you when there’s a problem, rather than hiding troubling online activity out of shame or fear of punishment.

Discuss how your child is adapting to her new school. Is she making friends, and if so, does she engage with those friends online? What types of websites and apps do they spend time on? When you know what your kid is up to, you know where to start when something is wrong.

3. Record and Block
When a child is victimized by a cyberbully, parents should step in to record the harassing or threatening behavior. If the behavior escalates, this will be important evidence to provide to parents, school administrators, and potentially even the police.

After you’ve taken timestamped screenshots, block the bully on as many forums as possible. It’s easy to block users on social media, email, and text messaging platforms, but anonymous forums can be more challenging. If the bully can’t be blocked, it may be in your child’s best interest to ban the website completely.

4. Nurture and Protect
Perhaps the most important way parents can protect their kids from cyberbullying is by ensuring home remains a safe and stress-free place. Make sure your child knows she can come to you with relationship problems, and make sure you, in turn, take those problems seriously. Manage your child’s stress by keeping a close eye on her sleep, diet, and exercise habits. Healthy minds and bodies are more equipped to deal with social stresses in a positive manner.

Provide opportunities for fun and socialization that don’t rely on digital media. When your child can express herself through artwork, reading, sports, or other activities, she builds self-confidence and becomes more resilient in the face of abusive peers. Look to club-based extracurriculars for ways to make friends outside of a toxic school environment.

Cyberbullying can tarnish your child’s experience at a new school, but that doesn’t mean she won’t ever feel at place in your new home. She may just need a little help along the way

When she isn’t writing for Safety Today, Janice Miller. Miller fosters dogs and helps place them with forever homes. She advocates safety and care not just in communities but also in cyberspace.