With the emergence of popular social media platforms and messaging applications, bullying is not what is used to be. However, the mental and emotional damage it causes may be just as severe, if not worse.
Due to the nature of technology, cyberbullies are able to harass your child at anytime from anywhere with few, if any, immediate consequences and can reach far more people (even thousands, depending on the platform) in a shorter amount of time than the traditional playground bully.
Social media platforms, such as Instagram and TikTok, seem to be the most popular among schoolgoers. These platforms can easily become a minefield for cyberbullies. Young YouTubers may also become targets of those known as trolls, who do their best to damage a rising star’s confidence and reputation. Messaging groups, such as WhatsApp groups, may also be used to target individuals and/or spread damaging rumours.
You can, however, help your child to avoid becoming the victim of a cyberbully and to deal with cyberbullies effectively should they emerge.
Prevention is better than cure
Although it may be difficult not to allow your child access to technology, you can limit the time they spend on their devices to prevent exposure to cyberbullying. As a parent or guardian, you also have a right to monitor your child’s online activity.
Be cyber savvy
Educate yourself on the latest platforms that are popular among children and teens. In this way, you will be able to discuss any potential online dangers and how to avoid them with confidence. If your research is not helping you, ask your child directly about the platforms they’re using and make sure that they’re age-appropriate.
Make your child aware of the rules
Teach your child about the policies of the platforms they’re using. Let them know that just as they need to respect and be respected in person that the same etiquette applies online. Make your child aware that, just as in everyday life, there are policies that need to be taken seriously and that there are consequences if the rules aren’t followed.
Your child should then be able to recognise when someone is not following the rules and report them. Awareness of the policies should also deter your child from getting involved in cyberbullying themself.
Create a safe space for your child
Make sure that your child knows that they may report any incidents of cyberbullying to you or a teacher without any fear of judgement or consequences. Make sure that your child knows that you understand what cyberbullying involves – that often lies are spread about an individual – and how it makes them feel.
If your child is a victim of cyberbullying and they are experiencing emotional and mental difficulties, set up an appointment with a mental health professional for your child.
Dealing with cyberbullies
It’s so easy to want to fight fire with fire, even as a parent, but this kind of reaction often fuels the cyberbully to harass their victim further. Ignoring or blocking the cyberbully is the best way to stop them from targeting your child. You could even change your child’s phone number. However, the cyberbully will most likely move on to another victim and the cycle continues.
To stop the cyberbully completely in their tracks, keep evidence of the cyberbullying and report them. This may not always be possible as many cyberbullies are anonymous. However, if they can be reported, cyberbullies may themselves benefit from talking to a mental health professional. They may be bullies because of their own mental issues, such feelings of inadequacy for example, or their familial structures and environments.
Cyberbullies also need to be made aware of the consequences of their actions, perhaps through a face-to-face conversation with their target.
Bestmed’s mental health helpline
Bestmed has partnered with the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG) to offer its beneficiaries a free 24-hour mental health helpline to support those who experience mental health issues by managing its effects, providing additional support and improving quality of life. Your child may also find this Bestmed Tempo wellness programme benefit helpful to deal with the effects of cyberbullies.
Contact SADAG via:
• Toll-free helpline: 080 062 7775
• Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
• SMS: 43323