Keeping Kids Safe in a Virtual World. #WellnessWednesday
The Internet is the new schoolyard at all hours of the day. Since the onset of COVID-19, students are online more than ever to access distance learning and exploring ways to stay connected to their peers. There are lots of great ways children can use devices to learn, connect, and play.
Unfortunately, cyberspace is not all academia and friend connections — the internet can pose dangers if precautions aren’t taken, especially for children. The mass popularity of YouTube, gaming, and instant messaging means that kids are more susceptible to being potential targets. Even if you are at home with your child, it isn’t possible to monitor their online activity every second of the day. Therefore, one of the most important steps we can take is to educate children about the online risks they may encounter and how to avoid and/or report them to ensure their safety online. But first, one has to understand those risks.
In this “Internet Safety & Cyberbullying: Keeping Kids Safe in a Virtual World” session, parents/guardians learned strategies from Jasmine Lamitte, Director of Mental Health & Support Services, and Dr. Stephanie Nuñez, Mental Health Program Manager, to spot and prevent cyberbullying, and set boundaries with internet usage. Plus, tips on how to have conversations with children about online safety, and developing the skills to make good choices so our KIPPsters can stay safe online.
Here are some of the most common online risks for youth to ensure your child stays safe:
- Sharing important personal information. Be careful who can access sensitive information (i.e., home address, computer passwords) or your children’s interest to reduce their exposure to online threats.
- Being sent files that could damage the device. It’s best to not click on a link in an unsolicited email and to always hover over a link to see where that link is really taking you.
- Talking to cyber predators. Predators can set up fake profiles (i.e., in chat rooms, games) and pretend to be your kid’s age, so inform your kid(s) to only engage online with people that they know.
- Being cyberbullied. Bullies no longer have to be face-to-face with their victims, thus it’s imperative to understand what devices, apps and technology your child is using.
- Falling for scams. A common scam comes through your email claiming that your family has won a great amount of money and asks for payment or sensitive information to receive those “winnings” — steer clear.
- Posting anything that they'll regret later on as adults. Before sharing, online users should ask, “Am I okay if this is never deleted?” given the digital footprint in cyberspace.
In today’s digital world, education is key in protecting against online risks! With October being National Bullying Prevention Month, let’s dive into cyberbullying. And before we work to prevent it, it’s crucial to understand what cyberbullying is.
“Bullying including cyberbullying is unwanted, aggressive behavior among school-aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance,” says Jasmine Lamitte, Director of Mental Health & Support Services at KIPP SoCal Public Schools. “The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. It is not just a one-time event and it does not go both ways.” Note: The Centers for Disease Control and Department of Education released the first federal definition of bullying in 2014.
Our Mental Health & Support Services team says that cyberbullying can range from mean comments or rumors being spread via social media channels, text messages, or even through emails, to breaking into a child’s account to impersonate them or post embarrassing messages/videos about them, and/or virtually threatening someone.
Without a doubt, it is never too early to talk to your kid(s) about cyberbullying and being a good digital citizen.
- Cyberbullying is more common in middle school through high school.
- 69% of students reported that they’ve done something abusive towards others online.1
- About 37% of 12-17 year olds have been bullied online.2
- And 30% have had it happen more than once.3
- Girls are more likely than boys to be both victims and perpetrators of cyberbullying — 15% of teen girls have been the target of at least four different kinds of abusive online behaviors, compared with 6% of boys.4
“There isn't one cause of cyberbullying but in general, children that bully have either been the victim of bullying themselves or witness bullying behavior in their own home,” shares Lamitte. Other situations that may cause a child to bully, but are not limited to this, include:
- A history of trauma.
- Lack of social skills.
- Seeking connection/attention from adults, even if in a negative way.
- Having low self-esteem and bullying others gives the child a sense of self-worth.
- When referring to students who bully, the phrase "hurt people, hurt people" is often used.
Your child may not tell you that they are being bullied so it is important to recognize the signs.
- They suddenly stop using the computer, even though they've always enjoyed it before.
- They don't want to use the computer in a place where you can see it.
- They turn off the computer monitor or change screens every time you walk by.
- They seem nervous or jumpy when they get an instant message, text, or email.
- They allude to bullying indirectly by saying something such as, “there’s a lot of drama at school” or “I have no friends.”
- They don't want to go to Live Instruction or appear uneasy about attending all of a sudden.
- They become withdrawn.
Much like in-person bullying, everyone responds differently. “Some kids can be bullied and it doesn't affect them at all, while others can be significantly impacted,” shares Lamitte. “Children who are bullied in any form including cyberbullying may experience anxiety, depression, fear and low self-esteem.” If your child is being cyberbullied, do not dismiss their feelings.
Here are some tips from KIPP SoCal’s Mental Health & Support Services Team:
- Stay Informed. Popular apps change all the time, but a quick Google search will tell you what to be on the lookout for (beyond TikTok, SnapChat, Instagram). Check the privacy settings on the devices that you allow your child to use.
- Build Trust. Keep communication open and be supportive so your child knows they can come to you if something goes wrong or does not feel right online.
- Use Technology In Open Areas. This can help you manage and be aware of who your child interacts with and how long they are online.
- Discuss The Risks & Encourage Critical Thinking. This isn’t the time for fear-mongering, but kids need to know what to be on the lookout for and when to get help. For instance, they should not talk to strangers, share personal information (i.e., location), and download files from people they don’t know. Since one can’t be there all the time, it’s important to help them learn how to determine what is safe and what is not.
- Establish Boundaries. Set time limits that balance time spent in front of screens with offline activities. It is critical to set a “Family Tech Agreement” and “No Tech Zones” for your family — but be sure that you are also modeling good tech behavior!
- Stay Connected & Curious. If your child is old enough to have social media, make sure you are following their account! Be curious about what games they are playing, and what apps they are using. Pay attention.
And if you suspect your child is bullying others, communicate! “Talk through the situation with your child openly, honestly, and without judgment to find out why they are treating others in this way,” says Mrs.Lamitte. “Tell them that you are aware of the bullying behavior, that you love them no matter what, but their behavior has to change! And that you want to help them change that behavior.”
Also, “try to talk to them about empathy,” continues Mrs. Lamitte. “Ask them what they think the other child feels when they are being bullied. And ask them how they think the bullying could stop. In addition, ask yourself if someone at home is bullying your child. Sometimes, kids who bully are mistreated by someone close (i.e. an older sibling).” And if the other child is also a KIPPster, get in contact with the school/teacher so that the students can receive the support needed.
KIPP SoCal Public Schools are standing up against cyberbullying and educating on prevention. We are all in this digital world together!
About Jasmine Lamitte:
Jasmine Lamitte, Director of Mental Health & Support Services, is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. Lamitte is a native of Southern California and received her B.A. in Psychology and Africana Studies from Pomona College and a Master's in social service administration from the University of Chicago. Prior to joining KIPP SoCal team and family, Jasmine spent 4 years on Chicago's South Side in both Chicago Public Schools and Charter Schools.
For additional resources on bullying prevention and support, visit: www.stompoutbullying.org, www.stopbullying.gov, www.commonsensemedia.org. If you notice a drastic change in your child's mood, don't hesitate to reach out to their healthcare provider.
151 Critical Cyberbullying Statistics. (2020). Retrieved from broadbandsearch.net.
2Cyberbullying Data. (2019). Retrieved from cyberbullying.org.
3Cyberbullying Data. (2019). Retrieved from cyberbullying.org.
4 Pew Research Center. (2018, Sept. 27). Retrieved from pewresearch.org.