Cyberbullying: A back-to-school checklist for parents

12% of Canadian parents surveyed believe their child has been cyberbullied

TORONTO, Aug. 28, 2012 /CNW/ - As summer comes to a close, there's lots of things to do before the kids head back to school, and having a conversation with them about social media and cyberbullying should be on parents' to-do lists.

According to a recent survey among Canadian parents of children aged 10-17 years old, when asked which online accounts their child has, the following results were found: Facebook account - 82%, Twitter account - 28%, email account - 97%, other online/social network account (e.g. BBM, MSN, MySpace, Skype, Steam, Tumblr) - 35%.

As parents are buying school supplies, backpacks and cellphones, they need to equally equip their kids to deal with the cyber school yard which exists in social media channels such as Facebook, Twitter, and other online sites. While 12% of parents surveyed believed their child had been a victim of cyberbullying, the majority of those surveyed are equally (57%) or more concerned (9%) their children are susceptible to bullying as a result of being active online.

"It's difficult to know what your child is experiencing online if you're not involved," said Dr. Peter Jensen, vice chairman for research for the Mayo Clinic Department of Psychiatry and Psychology. "In the age of social media, what kids say and do online can be unforgiving and unforgettable, so it's key to set social media rules and to help kids understand the implications of their actions. "

Combating Cyberbullying with Rules & Monitoring

4 in 5 Canadian parents surveyed said they set rules for their child's online activities. Other actions parents surveyed have taken include:

  • Discussing what is acceptable to write online (84%) and what images are acceptable to share (83%)
  • Are friends with children on Facebook (69%)
  • Setting a time limit for child's socializing online (56%)
  • Have their child share passwords with them for email (52%) and Facebook (43%)

While setting rules is an important step, monitoring is paramount according to Dr. Jensen. "It's essential to ensure your child isn't a victim to cyberbullying or that he or she is not instigating it. This can happen without a child even realizing the implications of their actions which is why parents need to have an open and ongoing dialogue with their kids."

Of those parents surveyed who believe their children have been cyberbullied, 17% of parents of female children believe their child has been cyberbullied. Canadian parents of children 10-11 years old surveyed believe their children are less likely to have been victims of cyberbullying, relative to parents of 14-16 year olds.  However, the parents of the younger children report increased monitoring of their child's online activity.

While 4 in 5 parents surveyed have set rules for their children's online activities, 17% of parents are not monitoring any of their child's online activity with the majority (63%) only monitoring some of their children's online activities.

Social Media 101 for Parents

Dr. Jensen suggests the following step-by-step guidelines for parents as kids prepare to go back to their online schoolyard:

  1. It starts with talking about social media 'table manners'. Just like teaching our kids it's not acceptable to talk with their mouth full, you need to discuss 'online manners' to ensure they are not being offensive online. Let them know it's never OK to use abusive or threatening language in any online communications or to share images that they wouldn't share with someone like their grandparents.
  2. Once a Facebook account is setup, set appropriate privacy settings. Every Facebook user has the ability to customize their privacy settings. Make sure you help your child set the appropriate level of privacy. This helps control who can see the content your child is sharing and also lets them block people if necessary.
  3. Parents need passwords. You're the parents and as long as kids are on your computer then they need to provide you with their Facebook and Twitter passwords. Let them know you trust them and will always respect their rights to privacy but if they want the privilege of using social media then they will have to share their password in case there is a concern.
  4. Set a time limit. Always set a time limit for how long your child can be on their social networks. Typically there's no reason your child needs to be on the computer for any longer than one hour a day especially during the school week.
  5. Be friends and follow your kids. If your child is on Facebook, make sure they're your friend and if they are on Twitter, follow them. If you don't have a Facebook or Twitter, set up an account because it's important to monitor their actions online.
  6. Most importantly - monitor activity daily. If your child is on their social media sites every day then so should you. Setting the rules is important but making sure they abide by the rules can only be done by monitoring what your kid is posting and who is posting on their wall.

About the Survey

From August 20th to August 22nd 2012, an online survey was conducted among a randomly selected sample of 1016 Canadian parents of 10-17 year olds, who are Angus Reid Forum panelists.  Survey respondents were required to have a child, between the ages of 10-17 years old, who is active online.  Being active online was defined as having at least one of the following accounts: Facebook, Twitter, email, or other online/social network account. 

About Mayo Clinic

Mayo Clinic is a non-profit worldwide leader in medical care, research and education for people from all walks of life. For more information, visit www.mayoclinic.org/canada, www.mayoclinic.com and www.mayoclinic.org/news.

SOURCE: Mayo Clinic

For further information:

Linda North
Venture Communications
linda@openminds.ca
416-849-1874