Online Safety in 2021

In the age of a pandemic, much of the world is now functioning on various virtual platforms. This reality has shaped every aspect of human interaction, from the way that we work, the strategies we use for teaching and learning, the way we behave with one another when face-to-face, down to the way we parent our children. It is now impossible to ignore the new reality that social media is the primary method of communication for teens and tweens. Even parents that had previously disavowed any form of social media in their home have found themselves caving into their child’s plea for a Snapchat, Discord,  TikTok, YouTube or Instagram account. 

This virtual territory of social interaction has its benefits, no doubt, but it also has its drawbacks. As teens and tweens spend longer hours behind locked passcodes and closed doors, there is less face-to-face contact and thereby less opportunity to read and understand social cues. As a result, racist terminology that teens would once feel socially inhibited to say becomes easier to type behind a closed camera. Compliments that might seem innocent in text take on a more sinister meaning when paired with an inappropriate emoji or image. Threats, physical or virtual, are easily executed when carried out under an anonymous username. 

Three Common Forms of Cyberbullying

The internet is the perfect breeding ground for harassment. Unfortunately, the majority of incidents (in all schools) tend to go unreported. Below are just three common forms of cyberbullying that parents and educators should know about. We need to work together to create awareness in an effort to address issues before they escalate and lead to any type of social, emotional or even physical harm. 

Trolling

This is a term that many parents are aware of. It refers to actions taken to get a rise out of someone online, usually for the troll’s own amusement. This can involves leaving a series of hurtful, sometimes inflammatory, comments on something your child posted. 

What an adult can do: Not everyone is a troll. It’s important for you to teach your child that in life, there will be people who disagree, debate or critique what they say.  To reduce trolling, encourage your child to ignore them. The silent treatment is most often the most effective.   If that doesn’t work, change the settings to moderate comments on their feed and if all else fails, delete and block the troll. While some trolls are harmless annoyances, repeated contacting from someone with insults or disturbing images is a more serious matter and should be considered harassment. In that case, reporting them is the way to go.

Sexting

It’s typically a consensual act where people send sexual messages or images to one another because of their mutual attraction. If someone attempts to initiate a sexting conversation without the other person’s consent by sending them graphic messages or pictures, that’s not sexting, that’s just sexual harassment. This form of harassment is most common on direct message social media sites, especially Snapchat, which allows users to send photos for a maximum of ten seconds before they self-destruct.

What an adult can do: Sadly enough, there isn’t much that can be done to prevent your child from viewing the sext in the first place. A 2009 UK survey of 2,094 teens aged 11 to 18 found that 38% had received an “offensive or distressing” sexual image by text or email.  Those sending photos over Snapchat believe they will disappear without consequences so they feel more secure about sending them. There are, however, social and legal ramifications that are now in place all over the world, which every parent and educator should be aware of in case their child is subject to this form of harassment. 

Doxxing

“Openly revealing sensitive or personal information about someone without their consent for purposes of embarrassing or humiliating them.” In other words, “dropping docs.” Once used only on famous celebrities, journalists or social media influencers, doxxing is now commonly used to out someone you simply don’t agree with. It becomes a form of harassment if your child says something controversial and another person threatens to reveal their location. 

What an adult can do: From the beginning, discourage your child from putting any personal information online including images and locations. Read through the privacy guides by platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube so you’re aware of what personal information of yours they are using to ad companies. Technically, doxxing is not illegal as long as the information is of public record.

What else can you do?

Talk about it: Sometimes, parents find out later that the real bully is their own child. Have open discussions with your child about what types of behavior are acceptable, both on and offline. Remind them that any behavior that causes a person to feel belittled, ashamed, embarrassed, angry, hurt or marginalized can be considered harassment. 

Establish consequences in your own home: Behaviors aimed at threatening or harming someone are considered bullying. It is not acceptable to pick on another person, call someone inappropriate names, push and shove, hide things, tell dirty jokes, or tease anyone in a discriminatory manner. Make sure that you set boundaries with your child so that they know that such behavior will not be tolerated anywhere.

Work with your kids’ school. My kids’ school has launched an anonymous feedback form (on our student-life page) to solicit feedback from students. This means that students can anonymously report harassment that happens on and off-line without feeling intimidated. The first step to creating a safe online space is to first be aware of what kinds of harassment are taking place. 

References

  1. https://www.cnet.com/news/internet-trolls-as-explained-by-science/
  2. https://web.archive.org/web/20090808091855/http://www.beatbullying.org/docs/media-centre/news-archive/August%2009/truth_of_sexting.html
  3. https://blog.securly.com/2018/10/04/the-10-types-of-cyberbullying/

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