| Cyberbullying

Responsible Online Behaviour: How to Raise Cyber-Savvy Kids

PhD. Jarmila Tomková | 14 Dec 2023

As in the real world and also online, your kids may encounter inappropriate behaviour as well as initiate it. How can you guide them to make the right choices and avoid making and affiliating with wrong choices?

Most children can’t imagine their lives without online communication. They game online together, share membership on fanpages and chat with their friends. As in the real world and also online, your kids may encounter inappropriate behaviour as well as initiate it. How can you guide them to make the right choices and avoid making and affiliating with wrong choices? Child psychologist, Jarmila Tomkova shared her thoughts.

 How do you define cyberbullying?

 Generally, bullying is defined as an intentional and repeated behaviour causing a harm to somebody else – an individual or a group, wherein there is an imbalance of power between the two sides. It works a little differently in the digital space. Online bullying spreads faster and reaches a larger number of people who either become witnesses or join the bullying. Cyberbullying is the intentional harming of an individual or group with the use of electronic tools. It does not necessarily happen only on social media or online games, but can also take place through phone calls or text messages.

 There are countless forms of cyberbullying – gossiping, damaging one's name and reputation, intimidation or threats. The bully can create online content that others may share, or just respond with emoticons – these count as cyberbullying as well. Bullying rarely or never happens between two people without others being aware of it, and everyone who sees the harm being done and does not react against it legitimates it and co-creates it.

 Why do children bully each other on the Internet?

 Children will explore their boundaries, relationships and behaviour – including aggressive behaviour, offline as well as on. However, the online environment is quite specific and, in some ways, riskier than the world offline; this is also true for communication therein. In online communication, it is much harder to be empathetic because it is often asynchronic, we do not see the face and expression of our communication partner, and this gives us a feeling of anonymity. Together, these aspects causes the disinhibition effect, which operates in online communication and leads people not to feel in control enough over their own behaviour. Their connection to social norms is somewhat diminished, which leads to a freer expression of feelings, including aggression. That is one of the reasons why in online communication, children might not be fully aware of how much they are hurting others. On the other hand, it would be a mistake to think that the online environment itself causes cyberbullying. Cyberbullying most often happens between children who know each other in the offline world. If they have strained relationships and tension between them face-to-face, their interactions can escalate into bullying in the online world.

 Is your child a bully? What are the signs?

 It can be difficult to distinguish signals of cyberbullying from the classic signs of adolescence, and so you need to be attentive to changes in your child’s life, and what they may be experiencing. In general, children who are bullies may be more irritable and conflicted. Fights with peers, insolence and reactivity can appear. At the same time, children may begin reacting in strange ways – for example, they hide their phone screen when you enter the room.

 Children are more likely to bully others when they experience:

  • -          Frustration
  • -          Tension
  • -          Uncertainty
  • -          Lack of stability and security

 You found out that your child is a bully. How do you react?

 The reaction must be quick, sufficient and unambiguous – it must be clear to the child that their behaviour is not correct. It is not good to react angrily or to punish the child hysterically. The psychologist advises involving the child in a voluntary charitable activities. The child can help members of the community of those they have harmed, in the city’s local community, or by visiting a home for the elderly.  You may show them respect by involving them in deciding which kind of prosocial project to choose or create. The child will learn to do good deeds. This way, they will at least partially set their actions right, and at the same time such experiences will teach them greater empathy, active listening and concern for others. Then, help them remove the triggers of their behaviour. Help your kid to empathise. Describe in detail how the victim might have felt. It is possible that the child does not even realise how much they have hurt the other person. You can also include an example from your own life – whether you were a bully or were bullied.

 "I do not recommend punishment, such as banning their phone for six months. Rather, try to support the alternative narrative, show the child how to do things in a different way, show them a new way, teach them how to react differently – better," advises the psychologist. Talk openly with the child about the situation. Find out why it happened in the first place.
Talk to them and try to understand your child. It might be that the kid has been struggling with their own feelings of loneliness, powerlessness, rejection or anxiety. We need to try to understand them and help them with that.

 How to ensure that this behaviour does not repeat itself

 Stay in contact with the victim. "However, your child must know about it in order for it to be transparent monitoring," advises Tomkova. You can also start monitoring your child’s social media – but again, transparently. Teach your child to express their emotions and work with them. Show them that anger can be released in other ways ­– for example, through sports or making music. Don't forget to communicate openly and be caring. Might it be that your child is having a hard time themselves? Are they going through something that is too much for them to handle by themselves such as demanding changes or unresolved situations in the family? "When a child feels powerless, they try to gain power somehow, in some place," says Tomkova. Finally but importantly, consider seeing an expert – a school psychologist or therapist. You can then choose whether family therapy or individual sessions would be better for the child.


How to prevent cyberbullying

-          Teach your children to be digital citizens.

-          Introduce your kids to the shortcomings of the Internet (for example, explain the disinhibition effect).

-          Educate your children about what cyberhate, cyberbullying and trolling looks like.

-          Teach your kids empathy, mindfulness and respectful communication.

-          Make sure your kids know the law so that they know where the boundaries are.

-          Talk with them about specific cases of cyberbullying and give examples using videos.

-          Teach your children how to react online – Help them realise that it is better to be an upstander than a bystander.

-          Work with your children through our online lesson that goes into more depth about the different types of online bullying and how they can protect themselves.



About the author

PhD. Jarmila Tomková /

Jarmila is a well-respected psychologist in Slovakia...

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