Teenagers are notorious for being unaware of the consequences of their actions, and that’s probably been true since the dawn of time. Since your teenagers live in the Internet age, help them understand the following guidelines for operating online:
- Assume that everyone will see what you post. People can actually see the things you do online.
- Consider that people might use what you publish to make fun of you or cause you harm.
- Do not publish inappropriate language or gestures. You don’t want people to judge you negatively when they see you online.
- Determine that all rules for interacting with people in real life also apply for interacting online or through cell phones.
- Don’t lend your cell phone to other teenagers.
- Protect your account information for everything you do that requires a password.
- If you’re the victim of cyberbullying, tell a trusted adult, ideally your parents.24
Teach your teenagers to ask themselves the following questions:
- Who will be able to see what I published?
- Would anyone be embarrassed or hurt by what I published?
- How might your worst enemy use what you published to make life miserable for you?
- What would my parents or teachers say if they saw what I published?
- How would I feel if the head of my dream job or dream school saw what I published?
- How would I feel if what I published was all over the national news?
- Am I proud of what I published?
- Do I have a clear conscience about what I published?
Remember that all of the parenting guidelines we’ve talked about elsewhere apply equally when it comes to cyberbullying. Kids with unfettered access to technology are more vulnerable to cyberbullying, both as offenders and as victims. Parental involvement and guidelines for teen access to technologies is critical.
Remember also that parental relationship is a significant protection. Teens with poor relationships at home are at greater risk for involvement in cyberbullying and other destructive online behaviors.
For you parents, consider the following guidelines for yourselves:
- Cultivate and maintain an open, candid line of communication with your children, so that they are ready and willing to come to you whenever they experience something unpleasant or distressing in cyberspace.
- Teach and reinforce positive morals and values about how others should be treated with respect and dignity.
- Talk to your teens about cyberbullying, explaining that it is wrong and can have serious consequences.
- Make a rule that teens may not send mean or damaging messages (even if someone else started it), or suggestive pictures or messages. Establish significant consequences for breaking this rule.
- Encourage teens to tell an adult if cyberbullying is occurring. Tell them that if they are the victims they will not be punished, and reassure them that being bullied is not their fault.
- If your teen is cyberbullied, get copies of the messages as proof that the cyber bullying is occurring. Depending on the nature and severity of the cyberbullying, you may want to talk to the parents of the cyberbully, the bully’s Internet or cell phone provider, or school administrators. When cyberbullying is threatening and/or sexual in nature, you may want to consider involving the police.
- Try blocking the person sending the messages. It may be necessary to get a new phone number or email address and then be more cautious about giving out the new number or address.