Guest Blog Post by Mary Jo Rapini, LPC
Thanksgiving is right around the corner and you are probably already making plans to visit friends and family. The kids are off from school, and you are looking forward to not having routines and school activities. Even though you sense peacefulness at this time without the hubbub, your child may not. Your child did not leave their “world” behind at school. Their world is increasingly the life they have online. It is the texts, the emails, the Face Book, and the MySpace. You can be a great parent in all aspects; however, if you don’t understand who your child is talking to online, what they are experiencing or who is coming into your home over the phone or computer, you are missing an important aspect of your child’s life.
Facebook, Time Warner and Cartoon Network recently announced the launch of an anti-bullying campaign to help change lives and make children safe from bullying. The national exposure of this campaign is exactly what this severe issue needs – public awareness and request for action. Parents are always more powerful in their children’s life if they form a united front. Below are tips for parents who have children using the Internet, social media networks and cell phones.
Discussion, discussion, and more discussion. Parents must have a basic knowledge about what’s going on in their kid’s online worlds from a verbal and physical standpoint. Since social networking has become a daily routine for kids, it needs to be part of the daily conversation. The more open you are with your kids and facilitate a safe and non-judgmental environment for conversation, the more likely they are to tell you if they come across an issue.
In addition to talking to kids about cyber bullying, parents should spread the word to other parents and act as a true advocate for the issue. The more you talk about it, the more useful information you can share. Comment on blogs, forward news stories, “re-share” on Face Book, stand up at the PTO meeting – use any communications necessary to get your voice heard.
Take the time. The good news is that with a national campaign, there will be information, discussions, surveys, resources and solutions everywhere. Take the extra time to read and comprehend the information to make yourself knowledgeable on the issues and to act as a resource to other parents and kids.
Learn the warning signs. As mentioned, information will be more available from a reference perspective so take advantage of it. Learn about the warning signs of bullying so that you can recognize it in your own child or any child. Remember that a sudden, drastic change in your child’s behavior might mean something is going on. Below are just a few signs of bullying, but don’t forget to trust your instincts:
- Torn, damaged, or missing pieces of clothing, books, or other belongings
- Unexplained cuts, bruises, and scratches
- Fear of going to school, walking to and from school, riding the school bus, or taking part with peers in organized activities
- No interest in school or their grades
- Weepy, sad, moody, or depressed after school behaviors
- Complaints of headaches, stomachaches or other physical ailments
- Loss of appetite or weight gain
- Anxiousness or low-self-esteem
Teach children exactly what to do if they get an offensive or threatening post or comment. Take every opportunity to teach them how to manage themselves in confusing situations and when to bring the issues to you; when they do, believe them and show your support.
The Golden Rule does apply to online interactions. It may be the first rule taught to kids, “Do unto others as you would have done to you.” You set the expectations for manners and appropriate behavior. Coach them to behave online as you have taught them in real life. Digital manners need to be reinforced just as regular manners do.
While you are taking the necessary measures to stop bullying and get more involved in what is going on online, there are a few other items that parents should pay attention to while monitoring social networking sites for cyber bullying.
- “Friends” and connections – Make sure you know them all. Kids are likely to accept requests from almost anyone. Discuss with them as to why they should only be connected to people they know and only connected to adults who are family members. There is no good reason why adults and kids should be connected online.
- Posted Photos – Take a close look at the types of photos your kids post and make sure you are comfortable with the content. Remember that the interpretation of the photo lies in the eyes of the beholder, meaning a simple photo in a bathing suit on a family vacation could mean different things to its viewers. Also, take a look at photos posted of your child by others. What may be appropriate to one may not be appropriate to all. Additionally, with geo-tagging, photos show the location of the poster. Scary?
- Time spent online and where – Keep tabs on many hours per day your child is online, what sites they are on and where they are accessing these sites from.
Parents can also help by simply monitoring their children’s social media accounts using services such as TrueCare.com, an internet-based service that may provide an early warning of potentially concerning or dangerous online behavior. Each parent knows their child best, as well as their own work schedule. If you cannot monitor your child’s online posts, this type of service sends automatic email alerts concerning activity related to “friends,” photos or posts within their child’s social networking accounts like Face Book, Twitter, My Space and more. The service helps parents protect their children 24/7 – no matter where children access their social network accounts. Our children are growing up in a virtual world. Their ability to understand how it works is much better than their ability to understand the consequences of what they’re exposing for millions to see. It is our job as their parents to secure their safety until they are mature enough to understand the permanence of their random, fleeting, and immature thoughts. – Mary Jo Rapini
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