There is a fear among parents about the risks (real and unknown) that lurk in the online world. This fear feels different, and is different, than the risks on the playground or among children or teens at school. Cyberbullying means being victimized online and the potential repercussions cause any parent to shudder - low self-esteem, depression, anxiety, social isolation, substance misuse and suicide.
There is also a fear among youth that because parents don’t understand technology, that it will be taken away because of those risks (or realities). The loss of online connections among today’s digitally connected youth is threatening because, as published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, “the use of mobile devices now makes screen use the centrepiece of young people’s social lives.”
So what’s a parent to do?
First, know that research has found that online activities hold opportunities as well as risks. These “benefits” may include enhanced self-esteem, quality relationship building and the development of autonomy. These are important to healthy development as youth learn to control for themselves how they come across to the world and what they share publically.
Cyberbullying is, undoubtedly, a risk and parents need to keep an open mind, and want to know what’s up online. Studies show, however, that when parents control access to digital technology and "just ask” about their child’s usage, they don’t get a clear picture of what’s going on. Having children and youth tell them (on their own) is the primary predictor of parental knowledge. The best way for that to happen is not through making demands and over-monitoring, but by creating a safe, positive, open relationship between the parent and the child.
Dr. Jennifer Shapka (of UBC's Developmental Change & Technology Lab) suggests that cyberbullying is about relationships NOT about the technology. She suggests giving young people the skills to recognize, avoid and prevent cyber-bullying using three key relationship strategies. Follow the links to find out practical next steps for each strategy.
3 Criteria for Cyberbullying
1. intent to harm
2. repetition over time
3. use of power over someone
In addition, the research suggests that bullying online has an element of permanence which makes it unique!
Online activity is not the only way to develop self-esteem, relationships and autonomy but one reason why online communication holds appeal for adolescents is it's anonymity, asynchronicity and accessibility.
In addition, a report examining teens, technology and friendship suggests that technology plays a considerable role in how teens meet and interact with friends.
When parents "don't know" what is going on in their child's life, it IS a risk factor for behaviour problems in adolescence.
Taking a longitudinal perspective, researchers have identified that what youth disclose (or spontaneously tell their parents) is more predictive of how much a parent knows than how much the parent monitors.
With a secure attachment relationship, emotions are expressed openly and authentically between adult and child. This provides a safe and rich opportunity for a child to learn how to become competent in an emotional world, in other words, how to understand feelings and their connection with behaviours.
Follow the link for how to build or strengthen attachment with infants, children and youth.
Check out these 10 things parents can do to promote emotional understanding and kindness.
Build a family screen time agreement, using a Heart-Mind perspective, to create a balance of online and off-line time that fosters respect, responsibility and meaningful connections among family members.