Social Media, Be Smart
Tips for avoiding and dealing with cyberbullying
Kids today have to navigate an incredibly complex world of social media, a task that can even be hard for many adults to handle. “Kids are being exposed to things they are not mentally, socially, emotionally or physically prepared to see,” says Dr. Kris A. Winchell, a licensed psychologist at Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida.
Figuring out the rules of interacting on Instagram or Snapchat is challenging enough. But these kinds of platforms also make it easy for kids to become victims of cyberbullying—especially because it’s hard for parents to monitor what’s happening at every moment. “There is so much going on right under our noses that we don’t know,” says Dr. Winchell.
The first step is for parents to remind their kids that having a phone is a privilege—and something that parents can access whenever they want. “Sit down with your child and take a look at their phone with them in a nonjudgmental way,” says Dr. Winchell. “Keep up a dialogue and then eventually stuff starts to come out.”
Don’t be afraid to make your kids take a break from their phones if needed. “Most kids will be angry about it at first and worry that they’ll be out of the loop socially,” says Dr. Winchell. “But after a weekend they feel relieved that the pressure to respond to things isn’t there.”
Signs that your child could be a victim of cyberbullying include symptoms of depression or anxiety and a retreat from activities, especially ones they used to enjoy. “An early danger sign is when a child gets very protective of their phone,” says Dr. Winchell.
If a child is being cyberbullied by a classmate, get their school involved, especially since many schools have policies on cyberbullying. Contact authorities if physical threats are being made and bring in someone like Dr. Winchell if your child’s sleeping or eating patterns change or they seem especially anxious.
“There are so many different forms that cyberbullying can take, and it’s hard to notice for us supervising adults,” says Dr. Winchell. “We want to respect our kids’ privacy to an extent, but at what point is that privacy causing damage?”