The mass proliferation of Internet and communication technologies has made it possible for adolescents to remain in constant contact with one another. When the school day ends, tools such as texting, instant messaging, email and cell phones provide a broad technological playground in which teens can interact and hopefully grow.
Communication and Internet technology use among teens not only fosters social interaction but also promotes technological skill development – critical for the teen as he or she matures into adulthood. While the expansion of technology has created new opportunities for interaction among adolescents and their peers, it has also created a new foundation for bullying: cyberbullying.
Cyberbullying results when bullying tactics such as name calling, harassment andspreading rumors transpire via internet and communication technologies. This type of bullying takes place in “real time,” and can make it diffi cult for the individual to escape. In the past, bullying that occurred in schools typically ended when the student went home for the evening or weekend.
Cyberbullying,on the other hand, continues beyond the borders of the school, creating a situation in which the teen may feel as if he or she cannot escape being bullied.
Cyberbullying has implications for the physical health and well being of the victim. While increased anxiety and stress are common in victims of bullying, cyberbullying may continually perpetuate these symptoms for the victim as the process reaches into the home outside of normal school hours. For this reason, cyberbullying may have more of a detrimental impact on the victim because of its duration.
For parents and caregivers, the simplest option for protecting their children may be to restrict use of Internet and communication devices. Even though this approach may limit the victim’s exposure to bullying, the reality is that these tactics will not protect the victim from the scope, reach or extent of cyberbullies.
Additionally, psychological research has consistently demonstrated that most adolescents prefer to deal with cyberbullying on their own. As a result, many will not confi de in their parents regarding the problem.
Given the fact that many parents may not know their children are being cyberbullied, the challenge is to create an environment in which cyberbullying may be detected before it becomes detrimental to the health and well being of their child. What this suggests is that parents may not be able to be able prevent cyberbullying altogether and further they may not even be able to encourage their children to talk to them about the problem when it occurs.
However, parents can carefully monitor certain aspects of their child’s computer and phone use to identify incidents of cyberbullying. In addition, parents can work to create strong relationships with their children so that communication about important issues is possible.
One pertinent approach to identifying cyberbullying is for parents to locate computers in a common area of the home,such as the living room. Locating a family computer in a common area will enable parents to review the computer’s history to determine if problems have occurred. In addition, this tactic will also limit the child’s privacy, making it possible to detect problems.
Additionally, parents should consider setting up email and chat accounts with their children. While some teens may be unwilling at first, parents should remind their children that they wouldn’t use the information to invade their privacy. The information should be used if problems arise or when cyberbullying is suspected. Even though both of these approaches will help parents detect cyberbullying, communication with children and teens is a foundational component of prevention.
Specifically, parents should talk to their teens about whose names are on their chat, text and email lists. Parents should not only be able to identify names but also should ask their teen how they know a particular person. During conversations with teens, parents should also ask if their teen is aware of cyberbullying, if they have experienced it or if they know someone that has been a victim. Although communication with adolescents can be difficult, parents can be a vital source of information and support.
Let teens know that cyberbullying is wrong, and reassure them that it is not their fault. Preventing cyberbullying is a sizable challenge for parents, one that requires a proactive approach. Adolescents often do not recognize the threats they face and may be unwilling to allow their parents to help.
By following some simple steps, parents can keep their kids safe while building positive and healthy relationships.
Dr. Clatch practices at Courage to Connect Therapeutic Center, 2400 Ravine Way, Suite 600, Glenview.
For more info, call 847-347-5757 or visit couragetoconnecttherapy.com.
Dr. Michael Clatch