4 Things Every Parent Has to Know about Cyberbullying
4 Things Every Parent Has to Know about Cyberbullying
Jasmine Williams iBelieve Contributor
Many of our kids are immersed in their online worlds. How can we help them navigate something they know more about than we do?
Most of us grew up in a world where cyberbullying wasn’t a thing. The teasing from classmates generally stopped when the school bus let us off, and home life wasn’t as connected to school as it is now. This is a new day, though.
Youth are connected around the clock in a virtual world that doesn’t just disappear when the bell rings. This is impacting them in ways to which we can’t fully relate, but we can still help them navigate it.
Here are 5 things parents need to know about cyberbullying.
Photo Credit: © Getty Images/Prostock-Studio
1. It’s not like your experience of bullying.
Not only is cyberbullying unique in that it’s virtual, but the very nature of it is different. While we remember the name-calling and fighting that accompanied the bullying of our youth, cyberbullying takes it a step further. With pictures, text messages and screenshots, what used to be limited to the eyes of those present can now be spread around an entire school or community within minutes. And even worse, those pictures are permanent once they’re spread online.
Their world is bigger than ours was, not literally, but because of the internet they have access and exposure to more than we ever did. They can follow their favorite celebrities online in the same way they follow their friends, creating an increased desire to “look the part.” Many social media sites feed into that by offering filters that add makeup or change features like eye color and nose shape. It seems harmless, but when a teen begins getting more attention on her filtered pictures than her real pictures, what’s the message she will tell herself?
Social media can be a fun way to communicate and stay connected, but we should be aware of the profiles our kids are following, just as we want to know who they spend time with in real life. Go through the profiles together and hear their reasons for following them. Ask them whether or not they feel those profiles are honoring God. You’ll learn a lot about your children and likely pick up on some insecurities and thoughts you can begin to pray about.
2. It may be difficult for your child to talk about it.
Discussing cyberbullying is not as simple as your child saying, “Johnny keeps hitting me.” When it involves an attack on their appearance or something you’re unaware they’ve done, it may be hard for them to tell you.
Youth are being criticized about their looks and compared to ridiculous beauty standards. Even many of the “cool” kids secretly have low self-esteem because of how they feel they measure up to the filtered and photoshopped Instagram models. A teen or preteen already battling self-esteem issues may feel even worse having to say out loud what others are saying about him. And the enemy, being the father of lies that he is, wants to deceive your children into feeling unloved and unworthy.
With this in mind, spend some time in prayer before ever attempting the conversation. Ask God to soften your heart, rid you of any judgmental tendencies you may have, and to help you handle it gracefully. In an open and vulnerable conversation, you may learn things about your child that disturb you. Love them through it. Share your own shortcomings as they relate and remind them what God has to say about them.
When they learn they can trust you with their weaknesses and their mistakes, they’ll more willingly share with you the things that are hurting them.
3. The majority of teens have experienced it.
In a 2018 study by Pew Research Center, 59% of teens said they have been bullied or harassed online. That’s a significant amount – almost 6 in 10 teens. This tells us two things. Our children or the children of someone we know, have likely been victims. And secondly, our children or the children of someone we know have likely been perpetrators.
Surely we don’t want to imagine our own “babies” are contributing to the problem, but it’s certainly worth a conversation. If nearly 60% of teens are being cyberbullied, then it’s coming from somewhere. Let’s do our part in making sure our kids know our expectations. Connect your house rules to God’s larger agenda. We can remind our children that, as citizens of His kingdom, we’re to love and welcome others, leading them to Christ.
With such a large number of youth being affected by cyberbullying, we can’t afford to overlook the topic, especially during this time when COVID has moved most of our children’s social interactions to an online space. Talk and pray with them about what they are seeing and experiencing. Find out if they’re one of the 59%.
4. You can get involved.
In another 2018 study by Pew Research Center, 45% of teens said they are online “almost constantly.” Many of our kids are immersed in their online worlds, so much so that getting involved may feel overwhelming. How can we help them navigate something they know more about than we do?
Well, you don’t need to have all the answers to set the standards. Perhaps you’ll never be proficient in Snapchat or TikTok, but you can become familiar with these platforms and decide whether or not they work for your family.
None of us like feeling like the bad guy, but if doing so will protect your kids, then it’s worth it. Share your heart and your reasons in love. And don’t feel bad for what you ultimately decide is best. Some parents may go for a moderate approach. Others may decide there have to be rules about age or parental access to accounts. Prayerfully ask God to open your eyes to what will most benefit your family and glorify Him.
More important than the rules concerning social media usage is the equipping of our children to stand strong in their faith. We can’t shield them from everything out there, but we can prepare them as much as possible to be lights in the darkness.
When we make the pursuit of Christ a priority in our homes and welcome our children’s questions about their faith, we give them a foundation. Should they ever become victims of cyberbullying, we want them to be able to encourage themselves in the Lord and seek the help they need without feeling shameful or alone.
How to Equip Your Children
Cyberbullying may have its uniqueness, but the tricks of the enemy have always been the same. He wants us to become so self-centered and discouraged that we turn away from God. He would love for us to lose our children to a world that tells them they’ll never be enough.
Fight for your family by growing in your faith together and being involved in what matters to your kids. None of us will have perfect families. But there are things we can do together to bring us closer to God.
Consider having a daily Bible reading assignment and not allowing technology or internet use until it’s complete. At the end of the day or week, discuss the passages. Ask your children if they’ve encountered any situations in-person or online where those scriptures felt relevant. Let’s make Christ the center of all we do.
Lastly, if cyberbullying becomes a huge threat, contact the professionals and authorities who can help. Make sure your children know they do have a way out.
God has given us both spiritual and practical ways to keep our families safe from cyberbullying and the impact it has on today’s youth.
Photo Credit: © Unsplash/Jae Park
Jasmine Williams, founder of Built To Be, is an agent of change with a passion for Jesus and a love for family. As a wife, mom of four, homeschooler and seminary student, she knows the challenges and rewards of living purposefully for God even through life’s busy seasons.
Jasmine is pursuing her M.A. in Biblical Studies and seeks to inspire parents to embrace their homes as places of ministry, where they welcome God’s presence and raise children to be disciples of Christ. Visit her website, builttobe.com, and connect with her on Facebook for more encouragement.
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