Nearly half of all tweens and teens are experiencing cyber bullying
The internet is a risky place for our children. This message is repeated so often that we may have stopped paying attention, or perhaps we (as parents) just don’t know how to protect our children when they refuse to listen and are constantly connected anyway.
In July this year, McAfee released findings from what is becoming an annual study into the behaviour of tweens and teens online. The results from the ‘Tweens, Teens, and Technology Report’ act as yet another reminder for parents to be vigilant around their children’s digital safety.
Among the key findings:
- 81 percent of survey participants witnessed cyber bullying in the past year. (This is a 56 percent increase on 2013)
- 40 percent of tweens and teens are actually experiencing cyber bullying
- Half of tweens and teens have posted something risky online
- 48 percent have chatted online with someone they don’t know
- One in five (18 percent) have actually met a stranger in person after chatting online
Additionally, one third of children aged eight to nine and nearly two thirds (60 percent) of tweens aged 10-12 are on Facebook, in spite of the websites’ guidelines stating that profile holders must be over the age of 13. (In 2013 only 26 percent of children in this age group indicated they had Facebook profiles.)
Don’t gloss over those numbers; they’re important because they’re way too high.
Do parents have a clue?
The report also revealed that 70 percent of respondents aged eight to 17 said their parents had no idea about their internet activities. The same number admitted to being sneaky in their usage, deleting browser histories, using private mode, deleting files and creating extra social media accounts to fool their folks.
What should parents do?
Some parents are inclined to sigh, roll their eyes and concede that technology is just a part of our children’s life so, “What can you do?”.
Driving is part of life too, but we don’t let our kids get behind the wheel of a car without appropriate instruction and licensing. Swimming is part of life, but we still put a fence around the pool and give our children lessons to keep them safe!
Education is key, as is appropriate supervision and monitoring while our children are learning how to use the internet safely.
As an advisor to an internet training program for children (supported by McAfee and run by Life Education) called bCyberwise, and also as an advisor to the Alannah and Madeline Foundation’s e-Smart Homes licensing program, I suggest the following:
- Understand your children’s technology: If you don’t know Facebook, Snapchat, Kik, tumblr, Instagram, Youtube, Keek, YikYak, What’s app, iTube, and whatever other apps your child uses, learn about them. Your children can be your best teachers if you let them.
- Don’t dictate or debate: Your child cannot be dictated to. For all the talk in the media about ‘banning’ technology, or parents growing a ‘digital spine’, the reality is that if you try to dictate to your tween or teen, you’ll likely drive unwanted behaviour underground. They’ll still be doing it. You just won’t know or be able to monitor. Having full-blown debates doesn’t work either. This just fosters resentment. Changing your mind constantly sends unclear or mixed messages.
- See your child’s perspective: There is great value in understanding your child’s perspective. Listen carefully to what they want and how they intend to do the right thing. Sometimes our position and demands fail to take into account how responsible our children can be, or how they and their friends use social media. I met one teen who told me, “Mum and Dad told me I can use these two apps, but not these other ones. But all of my friends are on the other ones and they won’t change. I’m isolated.”
- Explain your position clearly: Once you understand your child’s perspective, it is time to craft your suggested way forward. If you don’t want your child using a particular app, tell them what it is and why you feel that way. There have been examples of ‘contracts’ between parents outlining precisely what is and what is not acceptable technology use and the ramifications for choosing not to follow those guidelines. But make sure your position is clearly stated and understood. (That position should take into account your child’s needs and desires, safety and friendships – a tough balance to get right.) Parents should always have their children agree to monitoring and regular ‘check-ins’. And remind them that EVERYTHING they post online can (and will) affect their reputation.
- Work on a solution together: If we place demands on our children, they’ll typically rebel. When we engage in dialogue, remain open to their ideas and craft solutions together, we get much better results. Offer choice and autonomy where you can and be firm where you need to be.
Children want our help, even if they have a funny way of showing it
The McAfee Tweens, Teens and Technology report gives important insight into how children feel about our involvement: They want it. More than 80 percent said they respect guidance from parents regarding social media use. Similarly, 90 percent say parents do have input and involvement.
But how we do it matters. If we are to have influence with our children, they have to trust us. Banning them, spying on them, threatening them and withdrawing device privileges undermines that trust. In contrast, building a connected relationship based on mature discussion and open lines of communication keeps kids in contact with us and promotes safer behaviour online.
Find more Tweens to Teens articles
- 10 ways to have a positive influence on your children
- 5 simple solutions to raising kids
- 7 reasons teens are just like toddlers - only bigger
- Boundaries, teenagers and not fencing them in
- Help! My child is a social media alien
- Helping your teenager with friendship problems
- Tackle teenage acne
- The bumpy transition from childhood to adolescence
- Why parents should stop doing so much for their kids
This article was written by Dr Justin Coulson for Kidspot.com.au and has been adapted for Kidspot.co.nz