Personal tablets and laptop computers are standard equipment for most students today. Add in the fact that many kids have cellphones, and it means they can be online almost anywhere and anytime. That adds a new dimension of concern for parents as they teach their children to be safe in a 24/7 world.
“Technology is everywhere today,” says Dr. Cynthia Fisher, a family medicine physician at ThedaCare Physicians-Oshkosh. “Most schools are using tablets and laptops for day-to-day learning, so they have become essential learning tools. Keeping track of how our children are using the technology available to them is an important aspect of our role as a parent.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) offers this advice for helping manage kids’ online presence and activity:
- Keep tablets and computers in a common area where a child’s use can be monitored.
- Learn about the programs and apps your child is using.
- Discuss internet safety, show an interest in your child’s online life, and ask questions.
- Set up a family media plan for how technology devices are used. (Visit healthychildren.org for more information.)
- Use parental controls to limit and monitor online activity.
In addition, the Family Online Safety Institute recommends:
- Set time limits, specify when and where devices can be used, and enforce consequences.
- “Friend” and “follow” your kids on social media while also respecting their space and freedom.
- Explore and share interesting positive online experiences.
- Be a good digital role model. Curb your own bad habits, such as using your phone at the dinner table, and show kids how to collaborate and be kind online.
How to Have Conversations Around Bullying
Dr. Fisher says that in addition to internet safety, cyberbullying can be a problem for kids.
“When bullying happens over social media, it might be more difficult for parents, teachers and others to be aware of,” she says.
The AAP notes that cyberbullying can happen through text messaging and on social media sites, apps, e-mail, web forums and multi-player online games. It can involve:
- Sending mean text messages
- Sharing embarrassing photos
- Making up and spreading untrue stories
- Telling others to ignore someone or leave them out of activities
“The problem with cyberbullying is that it can happen anywhere, any time of the day. It’s anonymous, and it can spread quickly,” Dr. Fisher says. “It can also contribute to physical and mental health problems and academic struggles. Bullying of any kind should not be tolerated and needs to be addressed quickly.”
The AAP offers this advice for parents of children being cyberbullied:
- Don’t punish your child, threaten to take away your child’s device or cut their time online. They may see this as punishment and be less willing to tell you about bullying situations in the future.
- If there is online evidence, save a screenshot. This may be helpful if it becomes necessary to report the event.
- Talk with your child about the experience. Studies show that having just one person listen and support kids who have been bullied helps them become better at handling the situation in a healthy way.
- Most social media platforms have a process for reporting bad behavior. If a classmate is bullying, you can report it to the school. If the bullying involves threats of physical harm, you can consider reporting it to the police.
- A child’s bullying experience can also be stressful for a parent. Parents should consider finding someone to talk to for support. Talk with your pediatrician about resources for dealing with bullying.
- If your child is bullying or is a bystander to bullying, it’s important to address the situation.
“Be sure your child knows that bullying is never OK,” Dr. Fisher says. “Be a positive role model in person and online. Show them how to have empathy for others. If necessary, develop solutions with staff members at your child’s school and with parents of the children your child has bullied.”
Dr. Fisher says children must learn how to manage their aggressive feelings in ways that are not threatening to others.
“Monitoring our children’s online lives is an important responsibility,” she says. “Open lines of communication about a child’s activity can be a great way to establish an even stronger bond between parent and child and increase trust, and those are relationship assets that are extremely valuable.”