We are blessed to be able to support a local Girl Scout, Hannah T from Parsippany. She is currently working towards the completion of her Girl Scout Gold Award and has chosen to prepare a blog about Cyber Bullying. The goal of her project is to bring awareness to the issue of social media safety and cyberbullying by creating and presenting on the topic, creating posters, and writing blogs and articles. Her hope is to educate adolescents and their parents about the subtle (and not so subtle) hazards of social media by also providing strategies when social media gets ugly (and it will).
When Do Most Adolescents Access Social Media?
Social media is everywhere. Even if you or your child don’t have it, everyone around you and them does. So, even if your child doesn’t have Snapchat or Instagram, the people they talk to and hang out with most likely do, making your child part of the new social media era.
Social media is, in theory, a great thing, made to quickly connect with and contact friends, and share experiences, pictures and thoughts easily and quickly. However, the age at which kids are permitted to use social media sites is 13 years old. This makes it about the time kids are in middle school, finding new friends and seeing where they fit in. Just during this time period in a child’s life, conflicts among their peers arise very easily. From a child sitting with a new group of friends during lunch, or not being invited to someone’s birthday party, these non-essential conflicts can quickly spill onto social media sites. From my own perspective, as a high school student, unnecessary conflicts definitely peak in middle school, which is why kids that age are so susceptible to being cyber bullied, and being cyber bullies.
Start Talking About Social Media, Sooner than Later
If you have a child going into or is already in middle school, between the ages of 12-15, now is the time to discuss their social media use. You can tell them not to use social media at all until a certain age, but they may have already downloaded social media apps without your knowledge or permission. The key message you want to communicate is that having access to social media is a big responsibility.
At 13 years old, most kids don’t realize that what they put online stays there forever, even after it is deleted from their profile. Most importantly, they don’t realize that once something is posted to Instagram or Snapchat, it is completely out of their control in terms of who sees it and where the post is sent, even though they are the one who posted it. Other kids can screenshot the post, send it to other people, and can physically take their phone and show other people. I feel that kids fail to realize this because they don’t see the possibilities of that happening. When they download Instagram, they may not be using it with the intent to post things about other people, but instead, they wanted to find out what other friends are doing.
Advice To Give Your Adolescent
In my opinion, the best thing to do for your child is simply have a discussion with them, making sure they understand these four major points:
1-Later in life, everyone will still be able to see the things you posted
Later in life, when your child is applying to college or for a job, a standard part of the screening process is to google the name of the potential applicant and see what comes up. Potential employers may and will most likely look through social media outlets, and will be able see what has been posted. And I’m talking about those ‘silly 14 year old pics’ or those ‘silly phrases we made up.’ It’s all there for all to see. Forever.
2-Never say anything on social media that you wouldn’t say directly to another person directly.
Many teens feel that they can say anything since they are behind a screen. What they don’t realize is those words can be hurtful and cutting. They can end friendships or even result in a police investigation or other legal repercussions. Just because your child is behind the screen doesn't mean her words can’t be seen. In fact, they are seen and heard in an even bigger way than if they had been spoken face to face.
3- Never reply to someone if they are cyber bullying you
If your teen shares with you that he is receiving hurtful or threatening messages, make sure you insist he do not respond. Instead, the best option is to screenshot (or take a picture of) the conversation, and then block the account or number the messages are coming from. It is extremely tempting for teens to respond with something equally as hurtful, but that will just make the problem continue and give the bully a reason to continue texting/messaging your child. From experience, I know that if your child never responds to the messages and simply blocks the number/account, the bullying will most likely stop.
However, if the bullying continues on another social media site or in school, that is when it is okay to encourage your child to should say something along the lines of “Can you please stop?”. By now, the bully won’t be getting the reaction they want out of your child, but if they still continue trying to contact your teen, that is when you should bring the issue to their school’s guidance counselor or principal.
This is another reason why it is vital for your teen not to respond. If the problem escalates to the point where it needs to be brought to the attention of the school, they will see if your child responded. Even if the bully initiated the conversation, the fact that your teen responded will also, in the school’s eyes, warrant a punishment. But, I know from experience that by far, the easiest way to stop a cyber bully is to block the account.
4-Make yourself available to your child
Make a pact with your teen. If anything goes bad, wrong, ugly on social media, they can reach out to you with little judgment and no fault finding. Instead, agree that you will problem solving together. The last thing you want is for your child to go through a tough situation related to social media alone.
As a parent, you can’t keep your kids from the reality of society today, that social media plays a big role in how people meet, communicate, and handle confrontation, but you can help them know how to handle social media correctly as well as the situations it presents.
Photo from: Pexels
Dr. Liz Matheis
Dr Liz Matheis and her team specialize in assisting children and their families with Anxiety, Autism, AD/HD, Learning Disabilities and Behavioral Struggles