This blog post was originally featured in the Huffington Post blog on October 15, 2013. The original post is available here.
When it comes to our children's digital lives, most of us know what we should be doing: monitoring their Internet and cell phone use, setting appropriate rules so their electronic lives don't take over, and teaching and modeling responsible online behavior. But parents are too often on the sidelines when it comes to understanding what their children are doing when they go online.
October is National Bullying Prevention Month, a reminder for parents to think about the active role we can play in protecting our children from cyberbullying and teaching them how to be good digital citizens—individuals who use online technologies appropriately and responsibly. Yet too many of us feel overwhelmed when it comes to our children's online worlds: We don't have the time to be vigilant and don't have the skills or comfort to get up to speed with our children's favorite sites and apps. Even more, we struggle with finding the right words to start these difficult conversations with our children. How do we determine the right time for our child's first social media account? How do we ask for their passwords while respecting their privacy? How can we set new—and maybe stricter—rules about their internet and cell phone use when the current ones aren't working?
Protecting our children isn't just about learning an app or unlocking the secrets of your child's cell phone, it's about communication.
The conversations become even more difficult and more high-stakes when we find out or suspect that our child may be involved in cyberbullying. How do we protect our child when they are among the one in five youth who has been victimized? What if our child is one of hundreds of involuntary bystanders to a cyberbullying situation? What if our child is among the one in 10 teens who admits to harming others online or one the countless others who does so without realizing it?
As a parent of two girls ages 10 and 12, I understand these struggles well. As someone who has researched cyberbullying for years, I know it's critical that parents get off the sidelines and get involved. Through formal focus groups with parents, youth, and educators, and many more informal conversations in my community, I've learned that the reason most parents fail to act is because they simply feel out of their element. We didn't grow up with cell phones and social media and the unimaginable social pressures that being digitally connected 24/7 can bring.
But protecting our children isn't just about learning an app or unlocking the secrets of your child's cell phone, it's about communication—having the language to express your concerns, establishing clear and fair rules, and having a constructive conversation with your child about what it means to be a good digital citizen.
We at Education Development Center (EDC) have worked to develop an innovative resource that gives parents the information, skills, and language they need to have these complicated conversations, and the practical advice they need to protect their children. PromotePrevent.org's Preventing Bullying site contains six interactive scenarios in which parents are presented with challenging situations involving cyberbullying and use of social media and are asked to select different paths to resolve them. Through exploring the scenarios, parents can learn actions they can take to prevent and mitigate the harmful effects of cyberbullying and ways to teach their children digital citizenship.
Few of us will ever feel as advanced as our kids when it comes to technology. But regardless of our technical skills, we can teach our children lifelong lessons to improve online communities for teens now and in the future. Visit http://go.edc.org/cyberbullying to find out how you can get off the cyber-sidelines.