The Cyber-bullying Talk Parents Must Have With Their Kids

The world has changed fast, and parents have to be ready.

‘I wish I’d known sooner’ is the heartbreaking line I hear all the time from parents who find out their child has been the victim of online abuse.

I’m a Dad. I know exactly how it feels to see your child become a victim of keyboard cowards.

As parents we can know sooner.  We must know sooner.  Of course we can’t always stop our kids being bullied, but we can help prevent it going undetected.

The Federal Government recently committed $250 million to extend the school chaplains program with a focus on bullying. It’s an important gesture, however as parents we are the frontline in combating cyber-bullies in the lives of our kids.

The world has changed so fast.  Just one generation ago kids didn’t have access to the ocean of online content and platforms today’s children can engage with.  We have to understand that the online playgrounds increasingly frequented by our children represents a world where they can connect with people across the globe with a single click.  It’s a playground where they can be anyone they choose with relative anonymity.

(Amy "Dolly" Everett, the one-time face of outback hat company Akubra, took her own life January 3 after allegedly being bullied online.)  

In January 2018, estimated there were about 940,000 Facebook users between the ages of 13 and 17.  And while it’s the largest, Facebook is just one of the dozens of social media platforms available – there's Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, You Tube, WhatsApp, Tumblr, Yelp, Tinder, WeChat, Blogspot, Pintrest, Reddit and more.

Within this new reality, do you know exactly who your child is talking to? What is being communicated? What are they viewing and what they are sharing? These are questions every parent should be vigilant in asking on a regular basis.  And keeping track doesn’t require any special skills nor a university degree in computer science.

(Image: Getty Images)

For instance, it’s essential that parents explain the concept of ‘privacy’ to their children.  Kids need to understand that once any form of data – like a photo – is recorded and ‘shared’ it’s virtually permanent, timeless and has the potential to be accessed by multiple users.

If your child has a Facebook page, ask your child to ‘friend’ you.  Make use of parental controls to restrict access to particular sites.  Check devices at least fortnightly including hard drives, logs, cookies and historical records, such as browsing history.

Limit access to App stores through ‘family settings’, where children have a user ID, but cannot download or make a purchase without parental consent.

Most importantly, talk to your children about cyberspace in way that helps them understand the wonderful benefits, but also the inherent risks of their online world.  If you find your child is being cyber-bullied, work out a way to approach the situation together, whether it be by blocking particular people, deleting apps that don’t have a blocking feature or even contacting authorities.

Talk to your children about the risks of the online world, and work out an approach together if you discover they're being cyber-bullied. (Image: Getty Images)

The reality is, there are cowards who hide behind a screen and who are intent on destroying the lives of others.  By becoming part of our kids' online experience we can help them to know how to respond and ensure digital abuse does not go undetected.

Sorin Toma is the Managing Director at Xpotentia and the Principal Adviser for Cyber Security at UNSW.