Cyberbullying Expert Provides Important Tips to Stay Safe
Sameer Hinduja, Ph.D., provides important tips to prevent children and young adults from being victimized. He is internationally renowned for his groundbreaking work on cyberbullying and safe social media use.
As “National Bullying Prevention Month” kicks off this month, schools and organizations around the country are doing their part to address bullying. Sameer Hinduja, Ph.D., a professor in the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice within the College for Design and Social Inquiry at Florida Atlantic University and co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Center, provides important tips to prevent children and young adults from being victimized. Hinduja is internationally renowned for his groundbreaking work on cyberbullying and safe social media use, concerns that have paralleled the exponential growth in online communication by young people.
Parents often feel overwhelmed with their child’s use of technology, and struggle to stay abreast of the latest apps and trends or to have some level of involvement in their child’s online activities. While they want to keep their child safe, they’re not always sure what to do and often rely on their child’s school to provide guidelines. Hinduja cautions that both educators and parents must to do their part. Although most children use their smartphones and social media apps in appropriate ways, about 25 percent will experience online bullying at some point.
Parents: What to do if Your Child is Cyberbullied
- First and foremost, make sure your child feels safe. Your child’s well-being should always be the foremost priority, even though you may be inclined to blame their constant usage or convey that they are indirectly responsible in some way. It is very important to demonstrate unconditional support, otherwise they may never open up to you again in the future. In this tense moment, talk with and listen to your child. Take the time to learn exactly what happened, and the nuanced context in which it occurred. Don’t panic, but also don’t minimize the situation or make excuses for the aggressor.
- It is vital to collect as much evidence as possible. Print out or create screenshots of conversations, messages, pictures and any other items that can serve as clear proof that your child is being cyberbullied. Keep a record of any and all incidents to assist in the investigative process. Also, keep notes on relevant details like location, frequency, severity of harm, third-party involvement or witnesses, and the backstory. This will help you then work with the school. All schools in the U.S. have a bullying policy, and most cover cyberbullying. Seek the help of administrators if the target and aggressor go to the same school. Your child has the right to feel safe and supported in their learning environment, and schools are responsible to ensure this through their investigation and response.
“When we work with youth targets of cyberbullying, they often tell us that they don’t want anyone to make a big deal of what happened, and they don’t want the ‘bully’ to get in trouble,” said Hinduja. “Instead, they just want the problem to go away. As a parent, you can help make this happen. Contact the social media company, website, gaming network, or service provider involved. They will typically respond to your complaint in 24 to 48 hours.”
Hinduja has compiled an ever-growing list of contact information of these businesses, which are available at cyberbullying.org/report. He recommends sending them as much information as possible, such as screenshots, user account information, and specific locations where the offending content appears.
- Remind children that they can control their online experience by blocking and reporting other users who have harassed or annoyed them. Every major social media app and online multiplayer game has that functionality built in, and youth don’t need to subject themselves to interactions with people who are mean. Also, they should not hesitate to unfollow or unfriend anyone who compromises the quality of their online experience. It’s difficult sometimes – even for adults – but it’s necessary.
- Try to cultivate resilience in your child when they deal with relational conflict that is minor in nature. Too often, parents respond in a “knee-jerk” fashion to protect their child from all social problems. Unfortunately, this keeps them from learning the skills they need to overcome relational hardships.
“The reality is that everyone has to deal with people who are rude and malicious and spiteful in adulthood, and so adolescents should face and rise above some of these milder incidents with the support and guidance of loving parents,” said Hinduja. “This can provide them with the opportunity to make sure that their self-worth isn’t solely rooted in peer perceptions, but instead in who they are becoming as a person and what their future is going to look like.”
- Finally, help them to understand the typical motivations behind why people are hurtful toward others – such as jealousy, personal stressors, insecurities, family problems, self-hatred, lack of empathy and maturity, or intolerance, and help them recognize when those issues in their own life need to be addressed.
“We hope that these strategies help parents and other adults feel encouraged, empowered, and equipped to be involved in their child’s online life, and come to their aid in meaningful ways if they ever experience cyberbullying,” said Hinduja. “We know it’s easy for them to feel alone and out of their league, but it’s important to know that there are people and resources available to help.”
For more resources and information on preventing cyberbullying, visit cyberbullying.org.