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Age-Appropriate Discussions to Have with Your Children about Cyberbullies

Just as your family rules should include different rules for children of different ages, your family discussions about cyberbullying will change based on the ages of your children. Depending on their age, you should encourage your children to handle cyberbullying in different ways.

Cyberbullies and elementary school children

Instead of focusing on specific aspects of technology that may not yet be part of your child’s life, discuss appropriate interactions in general and apply them to socializing online. The following topics can help you prepare your elementary-age children to not only avoid becoming cyberbullies themselves, but to also be aware when cyberbullying is occurring around them:

  • Show your children that the same characteristics that make a good friend offline also make a good friend online. A great place to start is with the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

  • Talk with your kids about how feelings can be hurt when people share secrets or tease one another. Most elementary-age children have learned about offline bullying, so ask your children to apply that same awareness to online behavior.

  • This is also the perfect age to talk to your children about being a good digital citizen, including reporting (to parents, teachers, trusted adults) when they believe their friends may be in danger rather than staying silent when bullying occurs.

  • Be sure to point out to your children that your family has included consequences for cyberbullying in your Digital Family Policy.

To help protect your elementary-age children, keep online socializing to a minimum and primarily on sites created specifically for children their age.

Cyberbullies and middle school children

Middle school children are far more likely than elementary school children to have either been victims of cyberbullying or to have participated in cyberbullying themselves. Middle schoolers are beginning to use digital communication tools more often as well as participate in social media. To help protect your middle schoolers, take the following steps:

  • Monitor their early social media use to help teach them about appropriate and inappropriate behavior.

  • Give your kids clear guidelines about what to do if they see behavior online that they believe is bullying.

  • Reinforce the basic rules of good online behavior and talk about specific guidelines per device.

  • Middle school children likely know someone who has used their smartphone or online accounts to do or say hurtful things, so discuss the ramifications of these actions and how the victim may feel after such an attack.

  • Explain to your kids what cyberbullying involves and that it is serious enough to sometimes involve the police.

  • Brainstorm examples of behaviors that may be included in cyberbullying, and discuss what makes those behaviors cyberbullying.

  • Establish and share clear codes of conduct for using each digital device, and be sure to remind kids of the consequences of breaking the code of conduct.

This is another opportunity to remind your children of the dangers of over-sharing and the importance of not sharing passwords, even with friends they trust now.

Cyberbullies and high school children

By the time your teens reach high school, they likely have an active, independent online life that involves frequent use of texting, e-mail, and social media. For teens, a smartphone can be their main connection to their friends. Discussions with teens regarding cyberbullying may include the following points:

  • In discussing the ramifications of cyberbullying as related to your Digital Family Policy, remind your kids of the consequences, which may include losing access to these devices.

  • Remind your teens of the differences between offline bullying and cyberbullying and the often severe effects of cyberbullying on the victims.

  • Help your teens understand the potential long-term effects of participating in cyberbullying, including possible legal ramifications (possibly expulsion or being arrested).

  • Use current news stories about cyberbullying to encourage discussion about the seriousness of cyberbullying and how frequently it occurs.

  • Ask your teens to include you in their social media Friend list so that you have access to what others are posting on their public pages.

  • Discuss the differences between cyberbullying, cyberstalking, and cyberharassment, and set clear guidelines for how your teens should respond if they feel they have experienced any of these types of behaviors.

  • Encourage your high school–age kids to take any threats or threatening language made online just as seriously as if they received the threats face to face.

  • Ask your teens to ask any questions they have about cyberbullying and help guide both your discussions and your decisions about related family rules.

  • Assure your teens they can always come to you if they feel they have been bullied or believe they may have crossed a line with their own online behavior.

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