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How to protect your kids from cyberbullying

Social media, texting or other instant, online communication tools weren't around when many of us parents were kids, so we can't draw on personal experience to help our own children avoid online pitfalls. That makes it all the more important to get educated and set some ground rules to help our kids better navigate their online world and avoid bullying.

Cyberbullying is when anyone intentionally makes fun of, harasses, mistreats or threatens someone else online. Thirty-four percent of students say they have experienced cyberbullying. Four out of five students who were bullied say mean comments were posted about them online, and 70 percent said someone spread rumors about them, according to the Cyberbullying Research Center.  

It can start as soon as a kiddo has access to email or social media. It's most common among middle school-aged kids between 9-14 years old, and can occur into early adulthood. Being bullied affects how our children feel about themselves and how they see others. It can lead to anxiety, depression and low self-esteem, affecting a child's ability to learn and feel safe at school.  

How can we help our kids?

  • Be mindful of what your kids have access to, watch and listen. Know what apps they use and what sites they visit.
  • Ask to "friend" or "follow" your kids on social media. Refrain from posting or commenting on their profiles to avoid embarrassing them. Try to follow who they interact with online, what they are saying and what's being said to them and about them.
  • Stress the importance of privacy settings and teach your child how to use them. Talk about not sharing passwords with friends, boyfriends or girlfriends, to protect your child's identity and ensure that he or she is in control of what's posted from an account.
  • Teach kids to pause before posting. Underscore that what you say online can be saved and shared by others. A good rule is to not share anything you would not want a classmate, teacher, parent, boss, college admissions counselor or grandparent to see.
  • Write up smartphone and social media contracts with clear expectations of what is and isn't allowed. For example, you may state that kids can only be online after chores and homework are done. A different rule to limit usage might be that phones are put away and the family Wi-Fi is locked after 7 p.m. or whatever time makes sense for your family. You may also want to spell out what is and isn't appropriate online. For example, state clearly that kids may only communicate online with known family and friends, not strangers. Enforce the contracts. If rules are broken, make sure there are consequences for your child along with a learning opportunity like writing an essay about why the rules are in place.
  • Be a good role model. If you hear or see any bullying—in person or online—make it clear that's unacceptable behavior. Tell kids that you expect they will treat others with respect and courtesy, and to never post mean or humiliating things about others.
  • Talk. Talk. Talk. And listen. Listen. Listen. Your kids are best at telling and showing you what is happening in their world. Pay attention and don't be afraid to address something, even over and over. Kids are learning, and we can help them navigate healthy relationships.
  • Engage with your kids emotionally. Teach them social skills and help them develop positive self-esteem.
  • Get your kids into structured sports and hobbies as ways to positively engage with others. The more our kids are isolated or spend their time on screens, the more their mental health and physical health suffers.


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