Keeping your child safe from cyberbullies

Written by 8:42 am People Focus

We all love our kids and would do pretty much anything to ensure their well-being, right?

We all love our kids and would do pretty much anything to ensure their well-being, right? The problem comes in when we don’t know how to protect them, because the dangers they face aren’t anything we experienced when we were their age and so most of us don’t fully understand them. Well, humiliating posts and photos on social media sites, aggressive online messages and threats, character slurs and rumours, cyber stalking, sexting, and anonymous blackmail … these and more are the realities kids are facing by growing up in a hyper-connected world. Their social lives are increasingly defined by digital interactions, and we as parents need to find appropriate and timeous methods of dealing with the threat. We need to equip our kids to navigate this aspect of their lives, as with all others, in a safe manner. How do we do that?


For starters, we need to educate ourselves on the dangers so we know what we’re up against. For example, did you know that gangs surf the net looking to misrepresent themselves and so establish relationships with youngsters which they can then use to exploit them? Sometimes they solicit nude photos or revealing confidences and then use those to blackmail the child. Also, are you aware that a sexting code language exists? 143 = I love you, 8 = oral sex, KPC = Keeping Parents Clueless, and GNOC = Get Naked on Cam. However, perhaps the most ubiquitous problem is that of classroom bullies continuing to bully a child even when they’re at home, robbing the latter of their safe haven. Cyberbullying refers to anything from a mean Facebook comment to a threatening video clip, and because of children’s youthful emotions the ramifications of such actions can be extremely harmful, from loss of self-worth and confidence to emotional withdrawal, fearfulness and even, in the worst cases, suicide.


An emerging online trend is for bullied kids to bully others. Frequently the bullied child, hurt and angry, lashes out and bullies another. They are, after all, kids, and generally do not know how to deal with conflict and pain in a mature and helpful fashion. Parents need to be engaging with and counselling their children, helping to protect them from others but also from becoming a vindictive person themselves. Problematically, many kids see the internet as a ‘safe’ (i.e. punishment-free) forum for experimentation and for venting their jealousies and feuds. Because their activities are occurring online they take on a whole new element to, say, the spoken word, which is gone the moment it’s said; online harassment stays put in cyberspace and can generally reach a vastly wider audience, amplifying the sense of humiliation, the dejection or the danger.


The best way to help prevent your child from experiencing problems on the internet is by taking an active and informed interest in their lives – online and in the real world. Specifically, have a conversation with your child about their life online. Then, have another. Find out what they love about the internet and keep up an active interest, that way if problems arise you’ll be the one they tell. It also helps when children are encouraged to create realistic profiles online that create a sense of authenticity. Help them to be proud of their real lives. Furthermore, don’t wait for a crisis before explaining to your child the dangers of things like webcam abuse, what online blackmail entails, what constitutes bullying, and so on. Prevention is always better than a cure. If you suspect something damaging is in fact going on in your child’s digital world, it’s important you adopt a level-headed and informed approach to what is taking place. Don’t panic. A major reason why children don’t disclose online problems is fear that they’ll have the technology taken away from them, thereby taking away a large part of their social lives. All that said, nothing beats having a really good relationship with your child where he/she knows that they can tell you anything – anything – and you will still love them, accept them, and be there for them. Such children are far more likely to open up about an online problem than are those who fear rejection, extreme disappointment, or severe punishment.


There are many resources on the net that can help alert you to the dangers of the digital world as well as suggest strategies for keeping your child safe. In my booklet I suggest discussion points to have with your child to safeguard them against becoming an online victim, and I talk about what to do should a situation of cyberbullying, stalking or online blackmail arise. I urge all parents to invest time in this issue – the internet is not going anywhere and your child’s online engagement will doubtless only increase with time.

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