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I took a long time to write this post.
Every single time my fingers hovered over the keys, my mind would draw them back and I would think once again of the fate of Breck Bednar. The night that I read the article, I couldn’t sleep. My heart would twist and my stomach would churn when I pictured the victim and the helplessness of the mother who saw what was happening, did everything in her power to stop it and still couldn’t save her child from an online predator. Cyber bullying is real and it’s happening more often than we care to admit.
Social media is addictive, no question about it. Grown adults and bloggers are drawn into its seductive coil so it’s natural that children are likely to be even easier bait.
What’s even worse is the fact that cyber bullying can demoralise the best of us, when we are attacked either directly or otherwise through vengeful posts and snide comments. While an adult can read up on positive reinforcement and learn to brush these things off, children aren’t that emotionally mature. They need guidance, counsel and a whole lot of support when they face cyber bullying or any sort of action that causes them to question their self-worth.
Where do we begin though? Perhaps these can help you.
1. Limiting gadgets for children under the age of 13:
I know of kids who use their parents’ phones and their Whatsapp accounts to create groups for children to chat with each other. Sorry to burst your bubble, kids, but you’re under 13. You don’t need a Whatsapp group. Pick up the land line and call your friends to talk to them. It worked when we were growing up and it works now too.
People are openly surprised when we tell them that Gy does not use gadgets, play on the iPad or on my phone. She uses the laptop at home to access school sites and learning applications under my watchful eye. We have enabled parental controls on all devices at home and have had an open discussion with her on the need for controlled time online as well as making her realise that the world wide web is a quicksand of mammoth proportions.
Are gadgets bad? No, they have their uses, but limiting them makes sense, in my opinion.What does she do to keep busy? She plays outdoors with her friends, reads a lot, plays board games, quills, crafts, draws, paints and uses even kitchen items and clothes from my wardrobe to keep herself engaged. Trust me, it works.
2. Monitoring social media usage
I get that you don’t want to be that parent who hovers over her child’s shoulder or keeps asking your child whether he/she is on a gaming site for longer than necessary. Children need their space but how much of that space is filled with innocent friends and how much of it is being trawled by predators is a murky call.
If your children do use social media, my suggestion is they do it in the open with you around. Let them make their way around but ask them to be wary of clicking on spurious links and friend requests from people that they know nothing of, outside of social media. Ask them to be wary of uploading pictures of themselves onto any social media network.
These are adolescents with changing values and variable hormones.Treading delicately makes sense but total relinquishing of control does not. Be the parent who is empathetic yet detached. Tricky, I know.
3. Keeping an open channel of communication
In my mind, this is the most important guideline of all. You know when your kids babble incessantly and drive you crazy with their talking? As maddening as it may be, learn to listen to them. It’s important. It’s the fact that you are open to their ideas now that will help them come back to you and talk about the things that really matter when they grow older- trouble with a friend, a suspicious touch at school, something uncomfortable that they read/heard- it could be just about anything.
It bears to keep in mind the following rule as well as pass it on to your kids at every opportunity: The world online is very scary and very different from the real world. People can hide behind a screen and be extremely vindictive or suspiciously nice, for their own motives. A part of me is saddened that I have to warn my child of predators everywhere these days: schools, malls, restaurants and even online, but there’s little else to be done.
So, while I may be called a Dragon or Tiger Mom for limiting technology for my child or monitoring the time that she spends online, I’d prefer to play it safe than sorry. Knowing that despite doing everything I cannot protect my child 100%, I’m still going to give it my very best shot. It’s the least I can do.