The holidays are here, and without school, homework, or after-school activities, children will inevitably spend more time on their digital devices. This can also mean more exposure to bullies and cyberbullies. Unfortunately, cyberbullying never takes a vacation. One out of five children have experienced, or will experience, cyberbullying at some point during their school years. Supported by the Florida Legislature, the 20-year-old Monique Burr Foundation for Children, Inc. (MBF) has provided child abuse and bullying prevention education to more than 2 million children in schools across Florida and eight other states through their MBF Child Safety Matters™ and MBF Teen Safety Matters™ curricula.
Through prevention education, 95 percent of abuse is preventable.
We caught up with Stacy Pendarvis, Program Director of MBF, to share tips that will help keep your child safe while school is out of session.
1 Teach your child the basic rules and expectations of using the Internet
The holidays are a joyous time for adults and kids. Use this time to take a moment, slow down, and talk with your child about digital safety and citizenship. Remind them that everything they post on social media is public and permanent. Explain to them that it is important to establish a good online reputation now, because it will follow them for the rest of their life. After your talk, consider developing a digital safety agreement with your child to help keep them safe. Print it out and hang it near the computer to show that everyone in the house agrees to be safe online!
2 Keep an eye on your child’s online activity
Internet safety and monitoring is not about prying or spying, it’s about being an involved parent! Establish expectations for the number of hours of screen time your child is allowed each day. Consider keeping digital devices in communal areas of the house, as this will allow for better monitoring. There are also a variety of tools, apps, and software products that allow you to see what your child is searching, viewing, and posting online. Some of these can help protect your child from cyberbullying, viewing inappropriate content, and/or interacting with strangers online.
3 Be candid about the various digital dangers
You should discuss with your child the various digital dangers that they could face. Chat rooms, online games, apps and virtual reality sites are common places where cyberbullies and predators hang out. Teach them the red flags that warrant them to get away and/or stay away from unsafe or inappropriate content, such as if a person is asking them personal questions or asking them for pictures. Let your child know they can come to you and talk about safety when they or someone they know may be in danger of being harmed.
4 Provide support if your child is cyberbullied
If your child is a victim of cyberbullying, be supportive when helping them deal with their situation, never blaming them. Resist the urge to take their devices away as that only punishes them. Encourage your child to ignore the cyberbully, as engaging with the bully might make the situation worse. In the meantime, save, copy, and/or print out any evidence of cyberbullying. Also block the cyberbully and report them to the social media site or website where the cyberbullying is happening. If the activity doesn’t stop, report it to your local law enforcement agency.
5 Be aware of other types of abuse during the holidays
During the holidays, sexual abuse often increases because children are left with babysitters, there are guests staying in the home, and routines change – providing opportunities for distraction. Prevent sexual abuse by discussing boundaries with your child, limiting your child’s alone time, and being alert to signs and indicators of abuse. Increased stress, time commitments, and financial demands during the holidays also can lead to an increased risk of physical abuse. When you feel yourself on the verge of losing it with your child, take a break or a timeout. You should call a friend and ask for support. If you need support beyond friends, reach out to a mental health counselor or a hotline designed to assist families in crisis.