Parental Engagement in Your Tween/Teen’s Online Life
A recent study found that 87% of kids have witnessed cyberbullying. The impact of cyberbullying can be severe, so it’s vital that parents are engaged in their children’s online lives as well as their offline lives.
We all know that adolescence is a time of roller-coaster emotions and raging hormones. During adolescence kids often experience angst. They worry about all kinds of things – friendships, dating, how they look and if other people will notice that horrible pimple on their chin. It can be hard for a parent to sort out normal adolescent moodiness from something that may be really troubling their teen, like cyberbullying.
Parents are the ones that know their child best… not educators, not the athletic coach; parents. They are on the front lines raising their kids every day. Recognizing the danger signs of cyberbullying is an important part of parenting in today’s digitally dominated world. Parents can often sense when something just isn’t quite right with their child above and beyond typical teen behavior. It’s important for parents to listen to their gut feelings and that wonderful thing called parental intuition and talk to their child when something seems to be bothering them.
As a mom of teens I know that’s not easy. Many of us have experienced the teen that comes home from school, goes up to their bedroom, closes the door and seems to disappear behind those walls. They don’t seem to want to talk to anyone over the age of eighteen. It’s important for parents to know that even though a teen may appear to be pushing them away, that a Pew study found that parents remain the biggest influence in their teen’s life. Therefore even when it seems like your teen is tuning you out… they’re listening. So keep talking. Keep the lines of communication flowing. One of the best places to have a conversation with your tween or teen is in the car, when you have a captive audience. (Try to encourage them to put their cellphone away for a few minutes.)
Awareness and taking the time to think about your teen’s behavior is key to recognizing cyberbullying. Think about what your child is feeling when they wake up in the morning. Do they seem out of sorts? Everyone wakes up cranky on occasion… but is this becoming an everyday occurrence? Think about their day… Are they reluctant to go to school? Are they fearful about what may happen at school? What’s their friend situation like? Has there been a change in their circle of friends? Are they sitting alone or with someone else at lunch? Are they isolating themselves in their bedroom when they come home from school? Do they seem less interested in activities that previously they were excited about, like sports or an after school activity?
Some unusual behavior is a normal part of being a teen as they go through a whirlwind of changes, physically and emotionally on there way to becoming adults, but if it seems excessive or beyond what your teen usually does, then it may be time to have a conversation.
One fix that has been found to help those that are cyberbullied is to have dinner together as a family. A recent study of 18,000 students, 12-18 years old, found that having dinner together (family contact and communication) at least four times a week appeared to mitigate the impact of cyberbullying as it relates to mental health and substance use problems. Not just a little either. There was a four fold difference. The researchers of the study concluded that “family dinners are beneficial to adolescent mental health and may help protect adolescents from the harmful consequences of cyberbullying.”
Having dinner together may not be so easy for every family, especially when both parents are working, or when kids have different sports schedules. Knowing that eating together only four times a week may be manageable for most families knowing that doing so can make a positive difference in a tween/teen’s life.
What Parents Can Do:
- Look for that change in behavior,
- Look for signs of depression, such as inability to sleep, and isolation.
- Look for a change in school work or grades
- Notice if there is a decreased interest and a reluctance to go to school
- Look for change in friends
What if your teen doesn’t want to talk to an adult about cyberbullying?
We all want our kids to come to us to tell us what’s going on, especially if they’re in trouble. The reality is that many tweens/teens don’t seek help when they are victims of cyberbullying. One study found that only 17 percent of teens tell an aduld. Of those that seek help, the majority are teen girls and they turn to parents most of the time. Make sure that your tween/teen knows that there are other ways for them to report if they don’t want to talk to you or another adult, such as the app Sprigeo. Teens can send reports anonymously and confidentially. Sprigeo contacts the social network or app where the cyberbullying took place and has had good results with getting the online harassment, or offensive image taken down. Even if the app is not being used by the school your teen goes to, they will contact the school on your teen’s behalf and inform them of the incident. Interestingly many of the reports using these apps come from witnesses to bullying incidents, not victims. Teens can also report directly to the website where the content was posted or they can report using a cyberbullying hotline (1-800-273-8255). They can also go to the website cyberbullyinghotline.com.
If your tween or teen comes to you, you should know that what teens say helps the most is being listened to. Don’t jump in and panic. Take a deep breath and really hear what your teen is saying. Respond thoughtfully to them and also find out their thoughts and ideas about responding and reporting the cyberbullying if necessary. This is a problem that you and your tween/teen need to figure out together. Most of us feel better when we unload a burden off of our shoulders. Your teen will feel better, just by talking about what’s going on.