It’s a sickening feeling for parents. You assume everything’s fine about your kids…It’s only later you find out, sometimes in the worst way that they’ve been the victim of cyber bullying.
‘I wish I’d known sooner’ is the heartbreaking line I hear all the time from parents who find out their child has been the victim of online abuse. I know exactly how it feels having walked a mile in those particular shoes.
As parents we can know sooner. We must know sooner. Of course we can’t always stop our kids being bullied, but we can help prevent it going undetected.
The first step is to understand the new reality we live in. Today, the playground increasingly frequented by our children is cyberspace where they can connect with millions of people across the suburb, the city, the country and the globe with a single click. It’s a playground where they can be anyone they choose with relative anonymity and little risk of facing consequences for their actions.
Today’s kids start using tablets, laptops, smart phones and other personal tech from an early age. Laptops are becoming compulsory in some schools from year five or six and a number of schools are even using Facebook as a teaching tool.
In January 2018, SocialMediaNews.com estimated there were around 940,000 Facebook users between the age of 13 and 17. And while it’s the largest, Facebook is just one of the dozens of social media platforms available – Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, You Tube, WhatsApp, Tumblr, Yelp, Tinder, WeChat, Blogspot, Pintrest, Reddit and more.
Within this new reality, who your child is talking to, what is being communicated, what they are viewing and what they are sharing in cyber space is something every parent should be vigilant in monitoring. Doing so doesn’t require a degree in computer science or psychology.
For instance, it’s essential that parents explain the concept of ‘privacy’ to their children. Time and again we see reports of photos and other material being shared that shouldn’t be. Kids need to understand that once any form of data is recorded and ‘shared’ it’s virtually permanent, timeless and has the potential to be accessed by multiple users.
If your child has a Facebook page, ask your child to ‘friend’ you. Ask them to show you what groups they may have set up and what groups they have joined so you can join as well. Make use of parental controls to restrict access to particular sites. Check devices at least fortnightly including hard drives, logs, cookies and historical records, such as browsing history.
Limit access to App stores through ‘family settings’, where children have a user ID, but cannot download or make a purchase without parental consent.
Most importantly, talk to your children about their online experience. Help them to understand the wonderful benefits, but also the inherent risks of cyberspace. If you find your child is being cyber-bullied, work out a way to approach the situation together, whether it be by blocking particular people, deleting apps that don’t have a blocking feature or even contacting authorities.
This is not an attempt to unnecessarily interfere with your child’s privacy. It’s ensuring they are not suffering alone at the hands of cowards who hide behind a screen and who are intent on destroying the lives of others.
Principle Cyber-Security Adviser, UNSW