Protect Your Children from Cyberbullying

October 25, 2016
October is National Bullying Prevention Month. As our world becomes more and more connected online and our kids become more and more tech-savvy, online bullying is also becoming more prevalent. Mac Kid Family Safety posed some online safety questions to Brian Bason, CEO of Bark, an easy-to-use internet safety solution that parents can use to help protect their children online. 

Mac Kid Family Safety: When should parents broach the topic of online bullying and online predators with their kids? 

Brian Bason: It's never too early to have conversations with your child about issues like online bullying and online predators, using age-appropriate language. Giving a child their first device is a great teachable moment. We also recommend using this moment to promote the idea of being an Upstander, not a Bystander.

MKFS: What's the age-appropriate way to have these conversations with younger kids? 

BB: When talking with younger kids about online safety, remind them that there are tricky people online too, that they should only talk to people that they know in real life and that you are there to help them find the most fun places to explore on the internet. Let them know you are on their side, that you want them to have positive experiences online, and that they can always come to you if they have any questions.

MKFS: What should parents and kids be on the lookout for in terms of predators and bullies? 

BB: Predators will often spend a lot of time building a "friendship" with children before asking to meet up with them. A few things to watch for are questions about personal information (i.e. how old they are, where they live, is their online activity monitored by an adult); an exchange of ways to communicate online with someone who is more than four years older than them (i.e. what is their email address, do they have access to a software system that uses a webcam); and questions about romantic relationships (i.e. asking if they have a boyfriend or girlfriend). Remind your children that they have a right to receive respect from others, even adults, and if anyone says something that they think is inappropriate or makes them uncomfortable to come to you to talk about it. 

Signs to watch for from online bullies include demeaning or harassing comments toward others, use of the internet to vent anger and frustration, or aggravated and revengeful online communication. Remind your child to be an online upstander, to walk away from their devices when people are being mean, to not pass along hurtful comments or demeaning photos, and to speak up when they see something that makes them uncomfortable. Let them know that telling a trusted adult is the best way to get help to deal with online bullies.

MKFS: How do you ensure that your child isn't an online bully? 

BB: The best way to ensure that your child isn't an online bully is to teach them responsible digital citizenship. A responsible digital citizen treats others courteously, communicates respectfully with empathy, upholds basic human rights, and protects themselves and others from harm. Set your expectations for online activity and device usage with a technology contract and use teachable moments to remind your child about these expectations and how they can be positive digital citizens. 

MKFS: If a child is being bullied online, what steps should parents take to stop it? 

BB: First, let your child know that you are there for them and they are not alone. It's important to keep your emotions neutral and open, so that your child can feel good about coming to you. Then have a discussion on the best way to handle the situation and come up with a solution together. This will empower your child and help them learn how to respond appropriately. Some solutions may include blocking the person, reporting the person through appropriate channels, getting the school administration involved if it is another student, and implementing measures to stop it from happening again.

Bark is a digital safety solution endorsed by parents and children alike for its ability to unobtrusively identify threats and provide proactive recommendations. Bark alerts parents when it detects potential threats or signs of danger, including cyberbullying, internet predators, depression, suicidal thoughts and sexting. These alerts are combined with research-based, actionable advice for addressing the issue head-on, putting more power in parents' hands to address digital dangers. 

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