Perspectives: Parents need tools to help children use technology responsibly
We live in an ever-changing world. Adults are often overwhelmed by the new and constantly evolving social media sites and apps. Teens have far outpaced their parents in the race to understand and use new technology. But parents still need to be parents and to understand that while their children may have the knowledge to use the technology, they often lack the wisdom to behave responsibly with the technology. Adults have the wisdom to behave responsibly, but often lack the knowledge to use the technology. Adults need to help bridge the gap between wisdom and knowledge.
Without an understanding of how to behave with wisdom and without adult guidance, it's not surprising that youth will engage in cyberbullying and other concerning behaviors. Adults teach children how to read, write, swim and ride a bike. Adults also need to teach children how to behave as responsible digital citizens, and that means doing the right thing all the time.
The Cyberbullying Research Center is an excellent resource for parents, educators and teens. This site provides research-based and user-friendly tips to prevent cyberbullying. I've adapted some suggestions for your child from its resource guides:
• If your child is cyberbullied, they should tell a trusted adult. Talking about cyberbullying can be upsetting. Teach your child that you want to help them stop the cyberbullying. Unconditionally listening to your child will make them feel safe, and they will talk to you.
• Cyberbullies are looking for a reaction. Ignoring may resolve the situation, but collect evidence while ignoring. Take screenshots, print chat logs and save pictures in case ignoring does not end the behavior.
• Report the cyberbullying through the site's reporting system. Cyberbullying is often identified as a violation of the social media platform's user agreement. Your child's friends can report the bullying, too. Many sites will take the account down if enough people report it. An example would be an Instagram or Facebook account created to bully your child. When someone created a Facebook account to bully a friend's daughter, he reached out on Facebook to several adults to report the bullying account. This resulted in Facebook taking it down.
• Unfriend and block the cyberbully. This should be done on all social media accounts and include email and phone contact. Have your child make all of their social media accounts private and lock down the privacy settings. Do a Google search of your child's name and their various user IDs to make sure there aren't open accounts that have been forgotten.
• Contact your child's school. Often school administrators can use their cyberbullying policy to intervene if the cyberbullying is making your child feel unsafe at school.
Have discussions with your child about mature and responsible behavior to prevent an equally negative response by them to the cyberbully. Listen to your child and monitor their emotional state during and after the cyberbullying. Signs of anxiety, depression or social avoidance may require counseling and support for your child.
If you are feeling unarmed to deal with technology issues and overwhelmed as an adult, use the technology yourself. Don't allow your child to have use of technology and social media that you have never explored yourself. Get a smartphone and start downloading some apps. Have Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat at the minimum to learn the language of our youth. Youths will be more likely to take your advice if they know you have a basic understanding of the technology. Talk to them about their use of technology. They will be more apt to talk to you when there is a problem if you have been talking to them when there isn't one.
Ryan Klingensmith, MA, LPC, NCC, is a student assistance liaison for Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic and does frequent trainings related to technology, social media and youth.