Your child’s energy seems to shift to a new website every week. He has new friends and you can’t keep track of all their names. Though you try to ask what’s going on, you want to give him some independence. But is he being as safe, smart and kind online as you believe he is in person? And if he were being bullied, would he tell you?
Every generation has its gap. Even with technology, parenting is still parenting and children are still children. Being a plugged-in parent isn’t just about electrical sockets — it’s about being familiar with your child and his life. Here are some tips from our experts on how you can stay connected to your children in this high-speed, socially savvy universe.
Make sure that you understand the many formats that bullying (including online bullying) can take and tune into any behavioural changes that your children display. Be alert to the possibility of bullying and if you suspect anything encourage your children to talk to you about it. Remember that some children find it easier initially to talk about ‘someone else’ who has a problem rather than about themselves directly. Children prefer to share concerns with people who they trust and who don’t judge them.
Get Back to the Basics: Staying Connected Where it Counts
- Continue to foster a relationship with your child. It’s so important to have a relationship with your child from as early on as you can because as they develop their own identity they turn to their peers for support. This is healthy. But you want your child to feel comfortable turning to you too — and not just as a last resort. Spend time with your children. Let them drag you to films you don’t necessarily want to watch, but they do. Drag them to places too. Most importantly, just have fun.
- Don’t take ‘fine’ for an answer. “How was school?” invariably elicits a dismissive Fine from your child. Try being more specific to get them to open up. Ask: Who did you sit with at lunch? Who did you play with at break? What did you draw in art? Then it won’t seem strange when you occasionally ask more targeted questions like, Do you ever notice that others are left out? Picked on? Does this ever happen to you? Just remember that this is supposed to be a conversation. If it feels like an interrogation, it probably is.
- Experiment with different times to talk. After a full day of classes and activities with friends, your child might not be in the mood for a long conversation, much less a heart-to-heart. Rather than forcing one every afternoon or evening, test out other times and places, maybe on the way to a friend’s, as you tuck him into bed, or after football on Saturday afternoon.
- Bring bullying to the dinner table. Initiate a casual conversation about bullying at least once a month. Start the conversation with recent news coverage, personal experience, or a scene from a movie. Then ask if your child has ever seen similar behaviour at school. If you are open about bullying, your child will see that it’s an unfortunate, but natural, part of growing up rather than a unique and totally humiliating event.
- Raise upstanders, not bystanders. Whenever and however bullying does come up in conversations at home, encourage your child to take action. Instead of focusing on confronting the bully — which can be scary and dangerous — urge your child to support the bullying victim. First, help your child empathize with the victim by asking how he would feel if he had been the target. Then suggest that he does something nice for the bullied child, whether it’s eating lunch together, alerting an adult or simply saying, “I wish I could have helped.”
- Be a role model. Children follow more what their parents do than what they say. We’re all human, so we’re all imperfect. Sometimes we gossip. Sometimes we have cliques. Sometimes we start rumours. It doesn’t mean we’re all bullies all the time, but everyone can be at one time or another. Own up to it. Then when you catch yourself, take advantage of the moment to teach your child. Talk about it and admit that it’s not acceptable.
- Create a network. If there are other adults in your child’s life, you may find that he feels more comfortable talking with them. Ask a babysitter or aunt if she’s noticed a change in behaviour. Check with his best friend’s mum to see if she’s heard anything strange. Create a network of people who care about your child — and whose children you care about — and offer to exchange information.
Supervised Web Surfing
The digital world mirrors the real world. For children, it’s like one huge playground, where they innocently flirt, share secrets, get help with homework — and sometimes bully. While cyber bullying seems new and scary, it’s actually similar to the bullying you encountered growing up. Now it’s just moved online.
You may supervise your child at the playground, but, for the majority of the time, you don’t stand over his shoulder or eavesdrop on his conversations. We suggest you try to have the same approach online: be present, but relaxed.
Monitor children’s screen time and site choices by talking with them about what they are planning to do with their allocated screen time. Show your interest in their online activities and share reminders about safe surfing and protecting personal details with them in ways that help them understand that you are looking out for them rather than nagging!
Don’t forget to share what you are doing as parents, with your children’s nanny or babysitter. Here are some tips to help manage your children online:
- Discuss the site rules. If your child uses social media, you should understand how it works. Create a Facebook account and, yes, friend your child, but also friend your own friends. In other words: use it.
- Monitor that technology. Remind your child that technology is not a right. It’s a privilege and a responsibility. Your child should understand that you won’t spy on him, but you will have access to his computer and his mobile — in case you need it. Befriend him on Facebook. Follow him on Twitter. Read his blog.
- Ask about his privacy settings. If your child alters his privacy settings to exclude you, don’t attempt to circumnavigate the obstacle. Talk to him about how he uses the technology and why he doesn’t want you in that space. Remember that he should have a private life. If his reasons are fair and you have no reason to suspect that he is abusing the technology, let him have the privacy.
Establish rules of use
Tell your children that it is never okay to tease or gossip other children. Also, make sure they understand that mean words can’t be erased online – and are easily spread and “overheard.” Set other rules about photos, language, and privacy settings as you see fit, given your child’s age and personality.