A couple of weeks ago I was fortunate to have a lovely long weekend away with my family. There’s nothing I enjoy more than sitting by the pool watching my gorgeous kids happily play without a bother in the world. And I must confess it was even better to be away without all the “screen thieves” – you know the ones: Nintendo DS, Wii, Computer, Television. However, an iPod is a holiday must in our family. My iPhone is also my iPod and my kids like to use it to play games, which I’m fine with. But I’m now finding my kids are asking more and more often “when can I get my own phone?”
I like the idea of my eldest having his own mobile phone, particular as he is nearing time to go to high school. I can see the positives; what if he misses his bus, he wants to go and do some extra study after school in the library and wants to let me know his whereabouts (I live in hope!), however what scares the pants off me is the not so good things, like unwanted and hurtful text messages and inappropriate use. Almost every day now you hear stories on the news about teens being bullied by text messages and instant messaging on their computers. For today’s “tech native” kids cyberbullying is the same as our old schoolyard bullying, but the difference is there is no escape, as it follows them home, into your home, into their bedrooms!
According the experts cyberbullying is using a computer or mobile device to send hurtful or cruel messages to others. Bullies think they can get away with it and that they are anonymous. They are wrong on both counts. According to the, Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association (AMTA) it is a criminal offence to use a mobile phone to menace, harass or offend another person.
So while my kids don’t yet have their own mobile phones, they are active email and social media users which got me wondering how well have I prepared them for something as awful as cyberbullying? Have I talked to them recently about what they are doing when online and who their online friends are? Do my kids really feel or they can come and talk to me about any online experience whether it is good or bad?
Mobile phones and computers aren’t going to go away, nor should they. They are great connectors and educational tools, but I do believe it is very important for us as parents to educate our kids as to what is acceptable behavior and how to deal with any unwanted communication.
So here are some thoughts around creating a safe cyber environment for your kids:
- Take the home computer out of the study and put it out in the open where you can see their online activity. If you have teenage kids encourage them to use their computers out in the open too. This will help you to gauge their emotions while online and see if anything is upsetting them.
- Kids should switch off their mobile phones at bed time or leave them in another room.
- Limit their online time at night.
- Talk to you kids about what kind of conversations they are having online or on their mobile phone. If they do receive unwanted messages, teach them not to respond to the sender – BUT DO tell a parent, a teacher or a trusted adult. Bullies get their kicks from knowing they have upset their victims. By not responding you don’t give them that satisfaction.
- Discuss bullying with your kids – why it is wrong and what should be done to stop it.
- Install security software on your home computer. Software such as McAfee Family Protection is a great way to protect your family and give you peace of mind – that’s got to be a good thing!
Have you found a good way to discuss cyberbullying with your child? I’d love to hear your thoughts.