Anticipate potential problems or risks with your child
Having conversations about phone use and cyberbullying before any problems arise can set the tone that you are open and will be thoughtful, if they should happen to need you. Remember if they do not come to you at all when things go wrong, there is nothing you can do to help. Define potential cyberbullying situations, so that they know when it is time to seek help (e.g., friends ganging up on them, someone sending an abusive or threatening message or picture, solicitation for or sending an explicit picture or text). Let them know that, even if they feel they did something wrong or broke one of your rules, regarding online use, they can come and talk to you, you will hear them out, and together you will find a reasonable solution or response. (Then, you have to stick to this!). If someone is hurting your child, you want them to come to you, even if they did something wrong or used poor judgment. You can deal with that part separately later.
Ask your child/teen what might keep them from coming to tell you if they are being cyberbullied. Hear their feedback. It is critical. Then reassure them that you will support them first, act fairly, and make thoughtful decisions with them that you feel is in their best interest. Interestingly teens say the two things that most keep them from telling a parent when they feel bullied or uncomfortable about an online interaction or post are: 1) They think parents will automatically take their devices away, and 2) Parents/adults will intervene without their consult and make things worse.
Stay in the loop about their technology use and online interactions
At times when you notice that your kids are using their phones or computers, ask in a neutral or curious tone what they are doing or who they are talking to. It is important to lay the groundwork using general check-ins, especially with teens who can easily feel you are being too intrusive. You are actually shaping them to feel comfortable talking with you when you manage this process in steps.
If your child seems particularly happy about something they are seeing or reading or finds something funny on their phone, observe and express that to them. Ask them what is funny or what’s making them smile. Then validate them. For the reverse, also ask what may be making them upset or angry. Use observations like: “You look upset after seeing your phone”. Then engage in a conversation with them about what is happening. Resist the urge to fix or problem solve too quickly. Just listen, validate their feelings and let them know you are there for them if they need you. Warning: This is very hard to do and takes practice!
Make conversations about technology use a regular part of your interactions. If you get one word answers or annoyance from your teen, do not react. Just come back to it another time, but do not give up.
Use a tone of curiosity when asking questions, refrain from judgment, and allow them to educate you about their online experience. For example, asking more general questions about how sites work or who they are talking with, rather than asking about their personal conversations, will more effectively engage them. Building open communication with your kids will go a long way when it comes to dealing with something as potentially hurtful as cyberbullying.
Edited by Steffie Rapp, Juvenile Justice Specialist, Office of Justice Programs, U.S. Department of Justice, and StopBullying.gov Ed Board member.