Mobile connectivity has increased the incidents and intensity of bullying at school. It is easy to conceal, and there is a lot of anonymity contributing to the bully climate. Sites like YikYak and Ask.Fm, for example promote anonymity (i.e., no personal accountability) which attract youth and create a platform for bullies.
The CDC describes bullying as a form of youth violence that may result in physical harm, social emotional distress and even death. It is considered a public health problem, because it is a widespread and escalating problem in the United States. In one CDC publication, electronic aggression is a new form of violence. Hence October has become “national bully prevention month” which is a time for schools and families to raise awareness on how to make a peaceful society.
The standards of civility make all the difference, and those aspects of our moral nature relative to how we treat other people can go out the window when emotions are high and the coping skills are not yet in play. And so it is up to educators and parents to prepare children with meaningful conversations and guidance about recognizing when emotions are taking over on-line or in person, and seek help. We know that from behind the screen it is easy to become offended and angry and then cut loose and be mean, and sometimes downright vicious when the bully mindset feels anonymous. It is the power of self-restraint that our children need to see modeled at home and on campus – especially in a world that hypes the hostile as well as the beautiful events in the world. The golden rule, “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” means holding the bully accountable without bullying in return: responding with condemnation reinforces the bully victim mentality.
Bully prevention tools for parents and kids
There are cyber device settings and apps that parents and kids can deploy as a part of your anti-bully strategy. The aim is to create boundaries in the cyber tools and in your child’s own hearts and minds embrace the correct thinking and actions in confronting a bully mentality. The most important thing parents can do is use these tools to inspire open dialogue about recognizing and responding to mean-spirited, nefarious or unkind communications in the children’s cyber social realm.
We can help our children envision a cyber-safety shield in the form of a boundary in their own cyber social realm. A “geo-fence” is a virtual boundary around a real world location on a map, and as a bully prevention tool it disables certain apps and access to websites in a certain location – such as school campus. So the idea is to restrict access to social media apps while the kids are on school campus, and thus limit the amount of bully communications during school hours. Parental control apps also use geo-fencing technology to send alerts when children travel away from the established boundaries.
The main idea is to help your child establish a sense of setting limits for himself for reasons that keep him free from harm. When the child is involved in setting and maintaining the boundary setting, it is possible to encourage him to choose to obey the boundaries that keep him secure. This is an experience of empowerment or self-governance.
See related: Pros and cons of the iPhone 6 and iOS8 functionality
• YouKnowBullying APP from SAMHSA (Free)
• NetNanny Mobile
• Kindr app This is a new app that encourages people to send out compliments. The idea is that we can overcome the hostility in the cyber social realm with kindness. According to the Kindr founder, “a simple compliment can make a big difference, and we believe millions of them will change the world.”
Serenity prayer in action
And so with cyber tools and apps in hands, let us lead our children with confidence in the cyber social realm. Accepting the world as it is, and seeking the wisdom from the Lord to be the change that brings peace into every situation. When we can accept that it is human nature to be cruel under the right circumstances and the wrong thinking, it is also possible to seek the face of God who reigns over good and evil. That is the hope of our faith. We can choose to respond to people who are expressing hostility and fear with kindness.
In this way, teaching our children about the responsible use of cyber tools is the good we are called to do as the primary teachers for life. When we encourage our children to think about only taking personally God’s expectations of (Matt. 22:37) and promises for you (Jer. 29:11), and do not give much play to what other people think of you, it is possible to maintain a margin of personal security in the stormy cyber social realm.
Joanna Jullien is an author, educator and speaker on strengthening the parent-child relationship in a cyber powered world. She is a mother of two grown sons, the author of The Authority In Me: The Power of Family Life in the Network Culture, produces The Sacramento Cyber Safety Examiner column on Examiner.com, and is the CyberParenting advisor on The Fish 103.9FM. Her new book, A Google World in the Garden of Eden: Five Family-Safe Strategies for Texting and Social Media is now available for PC and all eReader formats including Kindle, Nook, iPad.
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Jodie Stevens, hostess of The Fish Family Morning Show on 103.9FM The Fish offers insights and lessons learned about faith and recovery from addiction. Check out her blog, Genuine Life with Jodie Stevens, weekday mornings on the Family Morning Show.