How to Identify if your Child is a Victim of Cyberbullying

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The thought of a child being teased, tormented or threatened online will make any parent’s inner grizzly bear come out. With the threat of danger, we will do whatever it takes to protect our little cub. The problem with victims of cyberbullying though is that they don’t always come to their parents when an incident arises.

In the 2015 study, Young Canadians’ Experiences with Electronic Bullying, by Mediasmarts, Telus and prevnet.ca, it was found that 60% of youth witnessed others being electronically bullied at least once in the previous 4 weeks. Those youth in the study who had been bullied were less likely to find it helpful to talk about electronic bullying with their parents.

Why don’t kids come to their parents when they receive a mean or hurtful message? Dr. Alissa Sklar, operator of risk(within)reason, a Montreal based consultancy project focused on teens, technology and risky behaviours states there are two main reasons kids don’t open up. The first one being shame. Dr. Sklar states that “kids know their parents think they are wonderful and may feel ashamed to tell their parents that others are saying mean and hurtful things. They don’t want them to worry.”

The second reason is fear of reprisal. Victims of cyberbullying worry that their parents might make the situation worse by becoming involved. Dr. Sklar states that “from about 4th grade onwards, there is intense social pressure against being a “snitch” and parents need to explain the difference between tattletaling (to get someone in trouble) and telling (to get someone out of trouble).”

Parents must engage with their child and come up with a solution that involves taking action their child is comfortable with. “Forcing the bully and the victim to work things out or punishing the victim are inappropriate methods of handling a bullying situation” Dr. Sklar says. She stresses that parents and teachers should also “work with bystanders and other classmates who side with the aggressor out of fear of being targeted themselves.”

So what is a parent to do? Here are some tips to recognize the potential signs that your child is experiencing problems online:

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  1. Hiding devices or being secretive of online activities. If your child hides their screen when you walk into the room, there may be something concerning going on.
  2. Highly emotional. If your child is getting upset or showing increased signs of aggression, they may be reacting to more than just an online game or video.
  3. Avoiding friends. Avoiding a group of friends your child normally enjoys being with or an activity they like participating in may indicate they are keeping their distance from a bigger issue.
  4. Changes in eating or sleeping habits. Interruptions in your child’s sleep or eating patterns may indicate a source of stress.
  5. Lack of confidence. A hurtful remark aimed at a child online can be devastating for them and affect their self-esteem.

When your child does approach you and shares that they have received a mean, hurtful or strange message, keep your inner mama bear restrained. Take a breath, stay calm and genuinely listen to what they are telling you.

Taking their device away, overreacting or dismissing their concerns as just “drama” or “silliness” will likely solidify the fact your child will not feel comfortable approaching you again in the future. Instead, try to see the situation through their eyes and create a plan together. Talk to your child’s teacher or principal about the situation. Contact the social media platform the bullying is happening on and take screen shots of the messages. If your school has a School Resource Officer, talk to them about the bullying or contact police if the situation escalates.

Taking an active interest and staying engaged with your child’s digital life will strengthen your connectivity with them both online and off.

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What Parents Need to Know about Sarahah

Source: Sarahah.com

Source: Sarahah.com

Sarahah is an anonymous messaging app that is creating quite the stir. Created by a developer from Saudi Arabia, Sarahah means frankness or honesty in Arabic. Unfortunately, in the digital world, honesty can often lead to cruelty.

The iTunes description for the app is "Sarahah helps you in discovering your strengths and areas for improvement by receiving honest feedback from your employees and your friends in a private manner".

Apparently, the initial intention of Sarahah was to provide a way for employees to provide feedback to their bosses without fear of retribution. But as the app went public, it's popularity soared as users were anxious to try something new.

This app first caught my eye when I saw a Sarahah username shared in an Instagram profile with a sarahah.com ending.

Being the analyst I am, I had to check it out and was quickly disappointed when I saw it was another anonymous social media messaging app that will undoubtedly lead to mean, hurtful comments and cyberbullying. This however, is not the first anonymous messaging app and it won't be the last.

For parents though, this gives us another reason to talk to our kids about what it means to be a good digital citizen. If your teen is using this app, encourage them to use it as a way to spread positive messages rather than fueling the negativity spiral online. Emphasize the importance of spreading kindness and practicing empathy. And, as always, keep the conversation going and ensure your kids know they can come to you if they receive any mean messages.

The Secret to Avoiding Square Eyes

Square eyes. That is what I have always told my daughter will happen to her if she watches too many shows. Little did I realize I would do it to myself.

In my family, I am the one spending the most time in front of a screen. I can easily sit down with my MacBook with the intent to respond to some email and 2 hours later, I am captivated by Twitter and a dog shaming video. How did that happen? I can feel my eyes getting shifty and yet can’t seem to pull myself away from the screen. I must be getting square eyes.

We are surrounded and immersed in digital technology. Everyday we willingly choose to be in a relationship with our devices. They make day-to-day operations simpler, ease the demands of parenting and keep our to-do lists in check. Technology connects us with the world and provides an endless stream of opportunities (and dog videos) to capture our attention.

How many times have you glanced at Instagram and found yourself down the rabbit hole an hour later? Were you half way to work when you realized your phone was still sitting beside your lunch on the counter at home? I bet you turned back for the phone, not your lunch. While technology allows us to stay connected, it can also keep us disconnected.

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Whether you think you are getting square eyes or not, we all need tech breaks. The pressure of responding to the constant barrage of online notifications can leave us feeling a little deflated. So what is the secret to disconnecting and avoiding square eyes? It’s simple. Go outside.

The moment you step outside and breathe in the fresh air, you are doing your body a favor. Breathing in fresh air brings more oxygen to your cells and more clarity to your brain. Dr Miles Richardson, head of psychology at the University of Derby states that getting out into nature has been shown to significantly correlate with life satisfaction, vitality, meaningfulness, happiness, mindfulness, and lower cognitive anxiety. That sounds way better to me than a bad case of FOMO.

As I talk with friends about the constant overwhelm we feel caused by technology, work, and parenting, the common thread shared with respect to self-care is taking a tech break. Whether that means going for a 30 minute walk or a weekend retreat without WiFi, we all seen to crave those tech-free moments that seem so hard to come by in our modern everyday living.

Getting outside without a device will not only improve your mood and regenerate your vitality, it will also demonstrate to your kids that it’s okay to step away from technology. It’s okay not to respond to the pings. It’s okay to leave the house without having the ability to take a picture. Kids feel the same pressure we do when it comes to technology overload. They have just not yet developed the coping mechanisms to handle it. So take the lead and challenge yourself and your child to recharge in nature and leave the devices charging at home.

Next time you feel that technology is taking control of your life, step outside and breathe in some fresh oxygen. Go for a walk, a trip to the playground, even just fill the bird feeder or water the flowers. Nature has the amazing ability to restore our attention, our creative capacity and reconnect us with what it truly important - ourselves.

“Let’s wander where the wifi is weak” - words to live by

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