Besides preparing your kids to deal with being a target of cyberbullying, you need to make sure they’re treating other people with respect too. Remind them when we’re online, we don’t get a lot of the clues that usually tell us how somebody is feeling, like their facial expression or tone of voice. That can let us forget that we’re talking to real people, and it can also make us (or the people we’re talking to) over-react and think something was meant to be sarcastic or hurtful when it wasn’t. Teach your kids to start by assuming the best about other people, to recognize the signs when they are angry or upset, and to always take some time to cool down before responding to anything.
Make sure your kids know what values you expect them to live by online. It may surprise you, but kids – even teens! – are a lot less likely to get in trouble online if there are rules about online behavior in the home. (See MediaSmarts’ research report Life Online for more details on how household rules relate to behavior.) Besides giving them limits (and sometimes an excuse to resist peer pressure), rules help them by getting across the values you expect them to live by, and making clear that those values matter online as well as in the “real world.” See the tipsheets Family Online Rules and Social Media Rules for some examples of household rules and advice on how to negotiate them.
For example, you should help them understand that people never give up the right to decide what happens to things like photos that they share online. MediaSmarts’ research has found that boys who believe in traditional gender stereotypes are five times more likely to share a sext that was sent to them than those who don’t, so make sure you talk to your kids about how media and society shape our views about men, women and relationships. The tipsheet Talking to Kids About Gender Stereotypes can help you get that conversation going.
Finally, it’s important to tell your kids that whatever their friends and media are telling them, things like sexting and cyberbullying are not normal or common behaviors. If they think that a lot of their friends are doing something – even if it’s something that’s shown as being bad or dangerous – they’re more likely to do it themselves, but the reverse is also true: kids are less likely to do things like cyberbullying if they know how uncommon they actually are.
You can also encourage your kids to do something when they see someone else being bullied online. It’s important, though, for them to make sure that whatever they do is safe for them and won’t make things worse for the person who’s being bullied. You can give them the MediaSmarts tipsheet First, Do No Harm: How to Be an Active Witness and go through it with them. Here are some ways to help that are almost always safe:
- Comfort the target in private
- Tell an adult you trust what’s happening
- Talk to the target about how to handle what’s happening
- Post something nice about the target
- Report what’s happening
- Stop communicating with the bully
- Document what’s happening (make a copy or take a screenshot) to support the target later
Kids also need to learn to make good choices about other people’s privacy, especially possibly embarrassing things like sharing photos. Teach them to ask themselves these questions before sharing a photo that they got from someone else:
- Did the person in this picture mean for it to be shared?
- If it came from someone other than the original sender, did they have permission from the person who’s in it?
- How would I feel if somebody shared something like this with me in it?