Cyberbullying Prevention Starts Earlier Than You Think

Family Matters on 11.10.11
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Photo: Laura St. John

You've heard a lot about cyberbullying lately, but there are two facts you may not know: Half of all kids will be a victim of cyberbullying, and our kids are likely to avoid telling us when it happens. They're scared we'll call the other parents or their school, or strip them of their tech privileges.

Here is one simple way to stop cyberbullying, and one way to get your kids comfortable enough to talk to you about it.

Digital Ed: Start Young

The problem first starts with our own perception. I thought my kid was good at technology because he can swipe, tap, and click faster than I can. Then, I realized how it's just like learning to drive a car: just because he can put the key in the ignition and turn it on doesn't mean he's ready to navigate the roads properly or safely.

Then our kids step on the gas -- crash! We're shocked when they get older and abuse their digital powers, through cyberbullying ...or sexting ...or whatever the next dangerous trend will be.

Advanced technology lessons, including cyberbullying workshops, typically don't start until at least age 8. Keyboarding, word processing, and how to make fancy slideshows are also good things to know, but we're missing the boat. It's too late.

One solution to stop cyberbullying is to teach kids at a much younger age about how respect the power of this brand new vehicle. Even though my son was fluent at speaking digital at an early age, I enrolled him at age 2-1/2 in our local computer class because it started teaching him healthy tech habits and proper tech etiquette. Three years later, I still follow along at home with him on the online lessons and reinforce safe ways he is learning to use new technology.

Help Them Open Up

Since cyberbullying is likely to happen to your kids or mine (oh, the horror!), let's prepare them with the communication skills they need to approach us about it.

At night-time, I get my kids to open up and tell me what happened that day at school. I usually kick off the conversation as they start to unwind, "So you had a good day today, honey?" I get a typical young male's short answer, "Yeah," so I have to probe further, "Was everyone nice to everybody today?"

They slowly start to unravel. They tell me the inside scoop of who-did-what-to-whom -- in the classroom and especially on the playground. As I make a mental note for future playdates, I get more and more convinced my little angels at school conserve all their energy to beat each other up at home. (At least that part is on my watch.)

By opening a conversation about any offline problems and experiences, I hope my kids will trust me as a source when things go wrong for them online someday. I want them to be comfortable now, at ages 5 and 7, to talk about what happened, how they think the kids involved felt, and how else it could have been handled differently if they were either child - the perpetrator or the victim?

If I lead them to do the thinking, they will be more prepared for the day they will find themselves in a similar situation -- offline or online -- but this means I often have to hold my tongue and not say what I'm really thinking! I know my opinions won't be cool for long, anyway, especially as they get older.

I try not to ever forget to tell my kids that I enjoyed talking with them. I assure them they can tell me anything so they don't feel threatened. With all those cyberbullies out there, their own mother is the last thing I want them to be worried about!

Laura St. John is Co-Creator of Discovery Kids Puterbugs, a technology program for kids that teaches kids 8 and younger healthy ways to use technology as a tool, not just a toy. Classes are offered in locations throughout the US, as well as an anywhere-anytime online format.

Related Articles:
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Create a Safe Tech Routine in 3 Simple Steps
11 Signs that a Bully is Targeting Your Child