When my lads were little and growing up everything that was a bit nasty felt quite distanced from their carefully cushioned world. Don’t get me wrong, I had worked for years in community centres where all sorts of things happened to children that would break your heart. So, I knew all the truly terrible things that could happen to children, but that was not my world and not that of my children.
When the first of the very normal and to-be-expected social bumps began for the big one, the… “You’re not my friend” and, “You can’t play” and, “That’s mine” I remember having this feeling of disbelief that such things could happen to my teeny poppet. That my gorgeous little curly haired boy was experiencing all the ‘normal’ of childhood that I wanted to hold away from his precious little protected life.
Then as the years went by and those teeny bumps turned into much nastier social situations happening in the circles around my boys, I felt prematurely grateful that most of it didn’t actually land on them. Until it did.
That’s an every parent reality isn’t it? Seeing things happening to other families and thinking that it’ll never happen to your child. Until it does. Even in those carefully curated friendship groups where you’re friends with the parents, the proverbial happens and so, we need to go in eyes wide open that at some time, our child is going to face social nastiness that will need managing.
I can’t tell you how many families I’ve worked with who have lifted their pained eyes to mine saying, “How did this happen? Why did this happen to us?” It’s almost incomprehensible to them that their child is at the centre of a deeply abusive situation, that often times has accelerated with very little warning. Why am I telling you this? Well, in a time that most of our children are connected to the online world with their little device, in a time where 4 in 10 children report being cyberbullied, we simply have to turn and face reality.
I want to deeply challenge the thinking that, “That will never happen to my child” because, you’re careful with who they surround themselves with and ‘so far’ they’ve been socially well protected. If your child is online, they’re wide open to so many people who, from the protected position behind a screen and keyboard, bring out their inner nasty. Our children are the first generation of young people growing up in a digital world, surrounded by devices – and if not their own, their friends’. It’s a different one to the one we grew up in – a world where low empathy, socially cruel, shaming and mocking behaviours are regaled in so many forums online.
That’s how we have to parent when a digital device is involved. The prevention of abuse – and yes, cyberbullying is abuse, is our most important mission as digitally aware parents. In the long term, cyberbullying (and bullying) leaves lasting psychological bruises that follow our children into their adult years. So, let’s not pretend it will never happen to our child and let’s start how we mean to continue – by arming our children with the skills to combat cyber-bullying from the start. Here’s how:
Step 1: Be aware and be involved. Know who your children are hanging out with online. Ditch the word ‘trust’ – that’s earned over many years – and get in there. Even if you’re raising Mother Theresa, remember your wee saint is interacting with others and like it or not, every child is learning and going to muck up and every child is influenced by the behaviour of their peers. When you’re vigilant, you can monitor changes in behaviour from the start. More secretive, more anxious, more moody? Get in there and keep an eye out whether your child likes it or not and prevent a world of pain.
Step 2: Teach your child self-protective skills. Online, when a child is being cyberbullied, they have a number of options:
Step 3: Be prepared to be the full stop on the nastiness for your child. Cyberbullying is intensely awful and degrading. It can involve large numbers of children and attract others who don’t even know your child to join in. If it’s school friend/s involved, speak to your child’s teacher – immediately. Think about ‘losing’ the charger for a few days to give your child some space from their device and then fill that time with lots of beautifully wholesome, healing moments – reading, cooking, chatting. I strategically ‘lost’ the charger on more than one occasion and used the same ‘I have no idea where it is but I’ll keep looking for it’ look on my face that I used when I put some of their billions of art squiggle masterpieces carefully at the bottom of the recycling bin and then helped them to look for it until they forgot.
You might be one of the truly lucky ones whose child gets all the way through their school years without being involved in a cyberbullying incident – either as a dealer of, a bystander or a victim. That is truly lucky, so please don’t bank on it. The digital age is upon us, and we simply have to lift our parenting game to meet the unique demands brought about by access to devices in our homes.
Claire has worked with children and their families in a variety of settings for 3 decades. She is also the mum of 4 young men and has faced all the bumps along the parenting journey that are common to all raising young ones in the digital age.
DiGii Social is amazing world-first technology that is the safest start to digital life for every child. In safe social networks either on DiGii@School or DiGii@Home, children are taught all the skills to be safe, civil and savvy in real time on an immersive learning platform while they play with their friends.
Every child deserves to be prepared for and protected in digital life, and every parent can feel reassured that 12 months on DiGii Social will set their child up to be kind and responsible digital citizens.