As Governor Andrew Cuomo and the state of New York join the ranks of the few states that have passed cyberbullying laws, it’s important to understand that simply passing a law is not going to ensure your kids’ online safety. It takes an individual effort on the part of parents and kids to end online harassment, and it starts with honest, open communication.
Kids need to feel comfortable approaching parents, teachers and trusted adults if and when they experience cyberbullying, as well as any other online event that might bother them. Here are a few things you can do, as a parent, to encourage your kids to open up:
Support Open Communication
Before you introduce your kids to the Internet, cultivate a relationship in which communication flows openly. Kids who talk to their parents openly are more likely to seek help or advice when an event occurs that makes them feel uncomfortable. Make it a point to ask about their day at school, their friends, and their interests. Start open-ended conversations. Kids and teens love to talk. Be there to listen.
Establish Internet Safety Rules
As your kids venture online, they should do so with a clear understanding of what's okay and what's not. Use easy-to-understand resources to educate them about dangers they may encounter online such as cyberbullying and online predators. Enable privacy settings on social networks to ensure their personal information is secure.
Finally, when your kids come to you with something that happened online, don't overreact. Get all the details before assuming the worst. Even if your child is partly responsible (for instance, they are now being cyberbullied in response to something cruel they previously said or did online, or they made “cyber-friends” with a stranger who is now making inappropriate suggestions to them), take the time to listen first. Resist the urge to immediately punish them, as this could discourage them from coming to you in the future.
Parental monitoring software is an essential tool to keeping your kids safe online, but the most important tool is to foster a relationship of mutual trust in which your kids know they can come to you when they need help. The best way to protect your kids online is to just be there for them.