This post is part of “Bully No More,” an editorial series hosted by the Fort Worth Moms Blog.
When I think of pioneers, I think of The Little House on the Prairie. My mind is filled with images of covered wagons entering uncharted territory and people braving unknown risks.
To every parent out there, let me say we are officially pioneers.
We are pioneer parents in the digital age. No other generation has raised children whose lives intertwine with technology. We are trailblazers.
Bullying has always been an ugly aspect of childhood found on playgrounds around the world. Parenting with technology means our children have digital connections to the entire world.
Kids are now empowered to cyberbully behind the cloak of anonymity. It happens at all hours of the day or night with a worldwide audience, and it leaves a permanent digital footprint.
As a mom of teenagers, we’ve encountered cyberbullying that began as soon as my children were allowed to carry a phone. The first incident was through the ASK.fm app. My child’s peers anonymously posted ridiculing questions and spread gossip on my child’s account.
Another time, a fake Instagram account was created in my child’s name. Anyone can screen shot online photos to create a fake social media account for the purpose of cyberbullying.
“Twitter wars” have been another problem. Kids post demeaning comments and banter back and forth. Quarrels can escalate and may include the input of strangers. Most recently, Twitter was used to post an anonymous poll asking, “Who is the most annoying person?” The multiple choice answers were all my child’s name.
Text messaging is also a danger zone. Misunderstandings can occur and intensify because our texts lack the context of body language and tone of voice. Group texts can be particularly problematic and brutal. My kids have become the target in a group text and been kicked out of conversations on a whim.
Last year, my child’s friend was too embarrassed to come to school after revealing pictures sent to a dating partner went viral. Even more alarming, other kids were victimized when someone used Photoshop to make innocent pictures appear otherwise.
When we were kids, we could avoid the known bullies. The same isn’t true for our children. Research shows that cyberbullying is more likely to come from current or former friends and dating partners than from peers who aren’t friends.
So, what’s a mom to do?
I’m in the trenches with you, trying to forge my way through this terrain. Just when I think I have it figured out, technology changes. But I have been parenting in a digital age for a while, so let me offer some tips.
- Lay the ground rules. My kids sign phone contracts that outline proper technology use. They state that technology is a responsibility and a privilege that can be removed. It includes clauses such as “I may not take a photo or video of someone without his or her permission,” and “I will communicate digitally as I would speak to people in person.” While problems still arise, the contract opens up conversation, offers accountability, and explains potential problems. It gives us a starting point to coach our kids through technology use.
- Place restrictions. We keep parental controls on our kids’ technology and have conversations about why certain apps are problematic. Just because all their friends have it doesn’t mean we allow it. As we attempt to keep up with new apps, parental controls are maintained and updated. Our children are getting older, so we’re loosening the controls and coaching them through new freedoms.
- Monitor technology. As parents, we can be watchful of the messages our children are both receiving and sending. My kids turn in their devices nightly, and we monitor their social media and texts. We know our kids’ passcodes and follow their social media accounts.
- Stay connected with your child. Beyond following your children’s social media accounts, also have open conversations with your child about technology, friendships, and school. When I have found hurtful comments to or from my child, we talk about how they might handle it. If they were the offender, they are expected to apologize. When they are offended, we coach them to seek resolution. If necessary, we step in to work with the other parents. As a word of caution, if cyberbullying is greatly impacting your child, seek counseling or other assistance.
- Equip your child. We cannot keep our kids in a technology vacuum, but we can teach them to be discerning in all relationships. We can teach appropriate boundaries, such as blocking bullies, leaving a toxic group text, deleting a problematic app, and reporting cyberbullying. And lest we forget, we teach and equip our children greatly by how we handle our own technology use.
Technology is a daunting landscape. As pioneer parents, we need to circle the wagons and work together. Let’s give each other a shout out when we see something concerning on our kids’ accounts. Let’s bounce ideas off each other about new apps, new concerns, and new ways to navigate this. Together, let’s create a map for future generations. When it comes to cyberbullying, let’s turn our face to the harsh wind, press forward, and pioneer on.
Heather Enright is an author, blogger, and artist. Her narrative works have been published through MOPS International and in the compilation book The Groovy Chicks Road Trip to Peace. Heather shares personal stories of wrestling for a genuine faith on her blog ClingingtotheVine.com. She is also a contributing author for the upcoming Daughters of the Deep blog. Earlier this year, Heather published her hand-drawn illustrations in the coloring book Grace of Many Colors, which is a deeply personal project. As a teenager, Heather created illustrations for her father as he battled cancer. She honors her dad’s memory by gifting a coloring book to a cancer patient for every book purchased. Heather also created and published a guide and journal for Bible study for kids and teens called Digging in the Word, with a boy and a girl version. Her books are available for purchase on Amazon or on her website. Heather works as an adoption social worker and is a married mother of three. Her family has made their home in the DFW area.