Be the best parent NOT the best friend! Parents, you were not put on this planet to be your child’s BFF (best friend forever). The reality is kids do not need a 40 year old best friend; they need a parent to make the tough decisions, advise, guide and put in place rules and boundaries. Parenting is a tough gig. Saying NO is ok and remember, you will not be the only one saying no, despite what your children might tell you. The issue of how to parent in the digital space is one that is confronting for most parents. Confusing at best, scary at worst and it is the only area of parenting today where we cannot fall back on our own experiences or those of our parents to help us out with... we simply don't have them.
Whilst technology has given us immeasurable benefits, it has also given us many dangers. Far too many parents still have the, "It won't happen to my child," attitude and fail to even speak to their children about the range of online situations they might find themselves involved in. They allow unsupervised access to technology with little or no thought for the potential consequences, and put blind trust in their child. Parents are often afraid of how much their child knows about tech, or reassure themselves that because their child can use tech they will be able to avoid any problems. They confuse being ‘tech savvy’ with their level of cognitive development and maturity.
Cyberbullying is pervasive in nature, incessant, ongoing and can occur 24/7. It is different from bullying in the real world as by virtue of technology the bully can follow you home and into your house. It often occurs with the perception of anonymity, i.e. an account in a fake name or a blocked number, but in many cases it is clear who is behind the bullying. Like any form of bullying, cyberbullying can be psychologically damaging.
You the parent must step up to the plate. Effective parenting in the 21st Century requires you to be able to parent in cyberspace. To be able to embrace the benefits, and identify and minimise risk and danger. No longer are comments such as, “I don’t really get it,” or “I don’t do tech,” remotely acceptable. Far too many parents are abrogating their responsibilities in this regard. Whilst many concern themselves with trying to prevent their child being a victim of cyberbullying, or worse, simply responding afterwards, the same effort must be in place to ensure your child does not become the cyberbully. Parents have a major role to play in both preventing their children being a victim or a cyberbully.
So as a parent what should you do? Lets start with 2 words, respect and responsibility. Respect for themselves and others and the responsible use of technology. Teach it, talk about it and practice it. This means you too. I regularly see parents behaving appallingly online. Never ever hand over a technology device to your child unless you know how it works and how to set parental controls. Knowledge is power. Get yourself up to speed about the reality of cyberbullying, the how, what and when. Be involved and be aware. Know where your children are going online, what they are doing and whom they are engaging with. No different to parenting in the real world. Set clear rules and boundaries. Remember you are the parent. Stay strong and don’t give in to the whining and badgering that might accompany your rules. Never ever threaten to totally ban technology. Children won’t come to you with any problems if they think they will be further punished. Go online with them. Hang out in their world, play and have fun with them just as you would in the real world.
Preventing cyberbullying is everyone’s responsibility. You, the parent have a responsibility to not only your child but other children as well. Their tech skills together with your maturity, life experiences and knowledge will make this a success.
Susan McLean is Australia’s leading expert in the area of cybersafety and young people and is the mother to three. She was the first Victorian Police officer appointed to a position involving cybersafety and young people and served 27 years. She is the author of the definitive guide to parenting online, Sexts Texts & Selfies (Penguin)