It was a cold and windy night at Mimosa Public school, but the audience was really warmed up to the topic of how to be confident parents in the digital space! Lots of great questions and also some advice asked around Cyber Bullying. One question from an audience member was –
Question: Should you contact the other parent of a child who is cyber bullying your child on Facebook.
Before I answer this question, it’s important to also know that both children in this particular case were only 9 years old and allowed on Facebook. That’s far too young…kids at 9 years old find it hard enough to work out social relationships and deal with bullying offline, let alone left to navigate online social networks without adult moderators watching their interactions. Nasty comments can’t be prevented even with adult “supervision” and often go unchecked and spread like wildfire! So much can go wrong online as it did in this case. The age limit of 13+ for Facebook is written in their terms of service and must be adhered to. It is set by COPPA the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act for very good reasons.
Answer: Always contact your child’s school if both children attend the same school, and alert them first. If the children go to different schools, sometimes both schools can work together to mediate. It is generally inadvisable to contact the other parent directly even if you know them well.
Approaching the parent of your child’s online abuser can be a risk if the other parent reacts badly and takes offense. At the very least there can be hurt feelings and it can impact on your child when they next see the other child. If your child’s school is not notified about the incident, then the children, both victim and cyber bully will be left to deal with the fallout at school, or when next they meet without the support of the teachers. It is so important that schools know when their students are having problems with their interpersonal relationships, or if there are incidents of outright cyber bullying, just as it is, if it is offline bullying.
When notifying your child’s school, be sure to have some evidence of the interaction or bullying to hand. This can be done by taking a screen shot of the interaction, it’s important to have this digital evidence as some kids may delete the interaction sometimes to avoid getting into trouble.
How To Take A Screen Shot:
- On a Windows P.C use the Snipping tool in the accessories folder Start/Accessories/Snipping Tool.
- On a Mac, Cmd Shift 3 or 4 will take a screen shot and save it to your photo folder or desktop.
- On a mobile Device its mostly the power on/off button pressed with the Home button briefly.
If in doubt how to do this ask your kids…most kids I teach about cyber safety, know EXACTLY how to take a screen shot. (Which is how they can share upsetting interactions and repost them in messages and on other social media by the way)
On seeing the evidence your child’s school will then hopefully mediate and take some action. Your evidence and complaint may also alert the school to any issues around cyber bullying that haven’t been addressed, and will hopefully spur them on to having some educational discussions or cyber safety sessions with students to help prevent it happening in the future. If your child’s school refuses to take any action take your complaint to a higher authority.
Don’t Punish The Victim:
Some parents take fright when their child is cyber bullied and shut all the child’s accounts and digital devices down. A family that contacted me recently took all the mobile devices away from their child and shut all their accounts down, this is tantamount to punishing the victim. Some parents get so frightened and bewildered that they can’t work out how to protect their child, so taking it all away seems like the safest option. It’s seems easier than trying to work out how to deal with safety settings, privacy and blocking.
Unfortunately, there isn’t really an easy solution, parents really need to get up to speed with the blocking and privacy setting options available on their child’s accounts and devices to protect their child from further abuse, so that their child isn’t punished inadvertently by being totally cut off from their friends digitally. There are safer options, and making sure your child has secure privacy settings enabled and only allows safe friends on their contact lists is the first thing to do. Making sure your child is old enough to use any apps or social media is also imperative.
The Adult Digital Space:
In the same way as we don’t push kids into any other adult space before they are emotionally and physically mature enough to handle it, as parents, we have to be sure our children are using safe, child friendly online environments. Most social media is designed for adults and older teens. These adult spaces don’t have parental controls or filters, they are not safe environments for younger children. You won’t be holding your children back by delaying their introduction to the adult digital space. You will be doing exactly what you are doing in every other aspect of their lives, waiting until they are old enough to handle more adult content and environments.
For younger children using safer messaging apps like iMessage and Skype to communicate rather than adult social media apps like Instagram and Facebook and Kik Messenger, will prevent a lot of problems. Share an iMessage account or Skype account with your child, so that you can monitor their messages until the child is a bit older. Do this by setting up one account and having the same login on your devices and theirs.
Note: Apple is introducing Family Sharing iTunes accounts in their next iOS8 release in Sept/Oct 2015. This new type of account should help parents to have more ability to supervise what their children are downloading and using on iDevices.
For more on privacy settings and safe apps for kids see my Cyber Safety Manual Keeping Kids Safe Online.