If your child is being bullied, it’s relatively easy to find the right resources and assistance. But, what to do if your kid is cyberbullying? A quick glance at available online resources tells me that there’s very little easily accessible advice for parents like you. We’ve all been there: the parenting situation that makes you feel the most helpless. If your child is the bully, I’ll show you what to do, and how to approach the situation from a social and school perspective.
The 6 Ds of bettering a bully
As our mobile devices have become the common connection between friends, family, and our whole lives, so cyberbullying has become an all too common concern amongst parents. It may be a dreaded phone call that leaves you breathless, informing you that your child has been discovered acting like a bully. Or, you may scroll their online messages and discover that your child’s been harassing a fellow pupil at school. No matter how you find out that your child is a bully, here are the 6 Ds of what to do:
- Ditch the denial and address the behavior
- Discover the cause
- Determine the consequences
- Don’t ignore: communicate and contact the people involved
- Don’t shame your child
- Do build emotional and social skills
What happens next?
Your journey as a parent towards helping your child recover from their bullying behavior will be largely determined by the way you discovered the behavior, and your established parenting style. Of course, every family is different, just as every child is unique. Remember that there are very few hard and fast rules to parenting, but there are some common-sense guidelines that help you and your child find their way through life. As a parent, helping your child navigate through their school journey includes assisting with the development of their social skills, expanding their social circle, and imparting the right type of wisdom when it comes to online behavior. Ultimately, the best way to protect your child from bullying, and preventing them from developing bullying behavior, is to ensure they have the right type of support and guidance. Monitoring your child’s online activities, in accordance with your parenting style and unique family circumstances is key. Chat to your child about the rules in an open way, to create the foundation of their online behavior. Moreover, keep that discussion going, and have it be part of your family’s everyday conversation. This will serve as a reminder to your child that – no matter what situation they may find themselves in – you’re here to help.
Ditch the denial
That dreaded phone call feels like a personal attack on your family, your parenting, and your entire life. But, it’s critical to confront the situation and ditch the denial: if your child is the bully, it’s up to you as the parent, to act. Within your own family, it can feel difficult to confront the situation without having your emotions explode, but it’s vital to confront the situation in a calm, collected manner. If that means taking a few hours to calm yourself and plan your approach, then take that time to consider your options, before bringing the news to the family table. If another parent has alerted you to your child’s bullying behavior, it’s best to thank them for informing you, apologise for your child’s behavior, and then work with them to ensure their child feels assured it won’t happen again. Don’t let this moment dull your parental spirit: we’re all doing the best we can, with what we have. Your child’s bullying behavior does not doom you into being a ‘bad’ parent. A ‘bad’ parent would take no action, and you’re the type of parent who is taking action.
Discover the cause
No child is born bad, but circumstances can lead them towards developing bad behaviors. They may feel pressured by their peer group, or they themselves may have been bullied in the past. It’s very common for the bullied to become the bully later on, so it’s important to view their behavior within the context of their life, and not just as an isolated incident. Cyberbullying, in particular, is often the result of children emulating what they’ve seen others do online. An incident of bullying like this can often also be an attempt to attract attention, and discovering the root cause behind this behavior is fundamental for your child’s journey away from it.
Determine the consequences
Responding to your child’s bullying behavior should be done in a calm manner, that focuses on the consequences, and helping your child move beyond their behavior. If your child used their mobile phone to enact their bullying behavior, then it’s just sensible that they lose the privilege of being able to use their device for a set amount of time. The consequences will often be closely linked to the scenario under which the behavior took place and, as such, if school is involved, there may be consequences there too.
Don’t ignore: communicate and contact the people involved
If you discovered your child’s bullying behavior, put on a brave face and get in touch with the parent of the children your child bullied, if that’s possible. Although cyberbullying often occurs in an anonymous space, it may be possible to find out who your child was bullying. If not, then focus your attention entirely on ensuring your child’s behavior changes, and that they understand the severity of their actions. If required, get in touch with your child’s teacher and principal, to alert their school. It’s difficult to be upfront in this context, but it will be appreciated in the end. Alerting your child’s school will enable teachers and staff to support and guide your child as they move beyond their bullying behavior too.
Don’t shame your child
Facing up to the consequences of their actions is important, but forcing your child to endure further humiliation is neither helpful nor kind. If you’re tempted to use humiliating tactics as a disciplinary technique, remember why you’re doing this in the first place: to curb your child’s behavior that humiliated another child. You can’t teach the same behavior as a consequence – it just makes no sense!
Do build emotional and social skills
Building your child beyond their bullying behavior goes a long way in helping them improve their emotional and social skills. Concentrate on helping them understand their behavior from the bullied child’s perspective, as this leads them closer towards empathy. Instilling empathy and understanding will help to curb any future incidents, but don’t assume this as standard. For every bullying incident, there must be consequences and outcomes. Chat to your child’s school counsellor, teacher, or principal for extra guidance and support.
Monitoring your child’s online activities (without apps and services)
As a parent, you’re always looking for ways you can better support your child’s online journey, and prevent them from being bullied, or becoming a bully. If you’d prefer to avoid using mobile applications or services to monitor your child’s online activities, I’d suggest:
- An open phone policy: This policy can be discussed when you first hand over your child’s first device to them. It’s a simple enough way to keep an eye on things, whereby if mom or dad happen to pick up their child’s phone, they’re easily able to access content, messages, images, video, and audio on the device.
- Establish basic guidelines around device usage: A short, and easy to understand, list of good and bad behaviors can be a great learning tool for your child. Discuss your experiences with them too, because most of us have had to deal with an online troll, someone sending an unsavoury message, or someone being plain old nasty online, at least once. Don’t be shy to share your experiences, because that will establish trust, that encourages your child to share theirs with you.
- Determine phone-free times: It’s never a good idea to send your child to bed with their mobile phone in hand, as this can lead to disturbed sleep. Rather, have your children hand in their phones and tablets before they head to bed.
Top apps for monitoring your child’s online activities
An abundance of apps and services exist to support your monitoring of your child’s online activities. For mobile phones, I recommend you choose your favourite of these three:
- Qustodio: Using Qustodio, you can block inappropriate content, control the amount of time your child spends on a particular app or game, and monitor conversations.
- Net Nanny: Net Nanny helps by blocking inappropriate content, and helps you monitor your child’s conversations, while also allowing for remote administration of your child’s device.
- Mama Bear: Mama Bear helps you monitor your child’s online activities, and alerts you when they’re travelling at a speed above your predetermined limit. Especially useful if you’re reliant on someone else to take your children home from school, or they’ve recently obtained their driver’s license.