Six steps to protect your child from cyber bullying

1) Educate children from a young age 

In an age where 7.5 million children under the age of 13 reportedly have Facebook profiles, many experts are calling on parents to educate their children about the etiquette and risks of the online culture that their children have been born into.

The exact role that the parent should play and the extent of online monitoring is an extremely contentious issue that is being hotly debated at the moment. The general consensus is that parental supervision is more appropriate than constant or invasive monitoring, and that parents should develop open lines of communication where children feel comfortable to tell their parents about any issues. 

2) Use the resources available

Of course, it can be difficult for parents who don’t use these sites themselves to teach their children about the risks, but there are resources available. Try the following sites: 

  • Cybersmart: this government-run website provides an excellent overview of cyber bullying and how to deal with it through separate sections for young kids, kids, teens, parents and schools, and also covers related issues such as sexting, protecting personal information, inappropriate content and mobile phone use. 
  • Raising Children Network: explains the basics of social networking sites and how children use them, as well as how to best deal with them.
  • Bullying. No way: contains a selection of resources designed to help children develop skills in cyber citizenship.

Beyond educating your children, other options include purchasing software to monitor your child’s internet usage and signing your child up to age-appropriate social networking sites such as ScuttlePad, giantHello, Togetherville and Skid-e-Kids, which require parent approval.

3) Take the appropriate steps to nip cyber bullying in the bud

If you become aware of a case of cyber bullying there are things you can do to nip the problem in the bud:

  • In the first instance it is best to block the sender’s messages (if possible) and not reply to any harassment (this is generally what the bully wants and could end up incriminating you or your child)
  • keep a hardcopy of any evidence (such as messages) and take screenshots of pages containing bullying material before it gets removed from the site
  • contact the social networking site, requesting that the offending material be removed.

4) Contact the school

If the bullying involves students from one school you should contact the school. If they are aware of the problem they can then start taking their own disciplinary actions and educating students.

Do not contact the parents of children involved directly; schools have policies and procedures in place to handle these issues professionally. Allowing communications to be coordinated through the school will prevent the situation from getting out of hand.

5) Research your rights under state law

Cyber bullying laws differ in each state, so do your research.  In Victoria, police can lay charges of stalking or menace over a telecommunications service for Facebook posts. South Australia has recently proposed legislation that will make it an offence to publish humiliating, demeaning or degrading images of another person on the internet without their consent.

6) Offer counselling

Without a doubt, the most important thing is your child’s wellbeing. Make sure that they know that they can talk to you about issues with cyber bullying. If they are a victim they may need additional assistance from a counsellor to get them through their ordeal, which your school should be able to provide free of charge.

In addition, resources such as the Kids Help Line (1800 55 1800) and the Reachout online forum are available if your child feels like talking about their situation to someone anonymously.

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