There are plenty of risks when your teens are online, and you can’t help feeling the weight of them. You’ve talked to them about the risks of sharing too much information with total strangers, discussed the need to protect themselves, and monitored their accounts for any sign that someone is picking on them. As you examine your teen’s social media accounts, you may have developed a habit of scrolling right on by whenever you see the names of close friends. After all, they aren’t at risk from bullying from the people closest to them, right?
Actually, new research shows that the biggest bullies aren’t strangers protected by the anonymity of a computer screen, people who have never met your teen, or even casual acquaintance from school. Among teenagers who were experiencing cyberbullying, it was seven times more likely that the bully was a friend, former friend, or former dating partner. Strangers, on the other hand, seemed less likely to want to invest the time and energy necessary to engage in bullying behavior.
What’s a Parent to Do?
Learning that your teen is at a greater risk for bullying by their friends can make you feel that nowhere is safe. It’s bad enough that teens are struggling with bullying in school and worried about strangers online. What are you supposed to do when they’re being bullied online by people who you thought currently or once cared about them?
Discuss clear expectations for online behavior
Many students simply don’t stop to think about the way they should behave online. The comfort of a computer screen, rather than seeing someone in person, makes it easier to say things that would never otherwise come out of their mouth. Make sure that your teen understands the standards of behavior that you expect–and what they should do when a peer, even a friend, doesn’t follow those standards.
Monitor your child
That doesn’t just mean monitoring their social media accounts and other access to the internet. It also means being wary of strange shifts in demeanor or mood. A teen who is normally happy and upbeat, but who is suddenly down and depressed, may be a victim of bullying. Listen to who your teen talks about and how they talk about their friends. A friend who disappears from conversation, when once they were a frequent appearance, is worth noting. Pay particular attention any time your child is in the middle of a new romantic entanglement or if they break up with a current boyfriend or girlfriend.
Take it to the school
If you discover that your teen is being bullied online, don’t be afraid to take it to the school and let them deal with the offenders. Many schools are now instituting online codes of conduct that enable them to deal with cyberbullies.
In today’s highly digital age, it’s easier than ever before to fail to meet your child’s friends. Parents are busy, kids are busy, and the contact you have with these kids in person may be minimal. Look for opportunities to meet your child’s friends! Be familiar enough with close friends, that you can recognize red flags in their behavior, especially if it starts to change over time.
Many things can lead to bullying: the dissolution of a romantic relationship, shifting loyalties and friendships, and competition for similar awards and honors in school can all be enough to set kids who were once close friends against one another.
Thankfully, there are tools that can help and aid to protect your child. Be aware of their friends, monitor their online interactions, and act fast if your child does fall victim to bullying online. Setting boundaries with the types of apps that your kids of all ages are exposed to is easier when you use a trustworthy mobile parental control software. Netsanity offers a suite of services such as their their Appblocker, where certain social media and other apps are profiled and parents can one-click block them, making apps that you may find inappropriate inaccessible. They have a free trial, so its worth checking out if your teen has an Apple mobile device. They are releasing a version for Android later this year.
I love social media as much as anyone, but also know there’s a fine line between enjoying its benefits in moderation, and spending endless hours letting it bring you or your teen down. We always recommend monitoring, communicating, and taking breaks from social media and all internet devices on a regular basis!