Thursday, October 21, 2010

Open the Dialogue

Cyberbullying and irresponsible use of social networking platforms have infiltrated our news for some time now. As I mentioned in the closing of Tuesday's post, we need to open the dialogue about social media.  

Just as tweens/teens do, we as parents make choices every day. We can make the choice to 'friend' our child on Facebook and then scold/shame them for the things they and their friends post or we can take a different approach. We can refrain from commenting online and use it as a listening tool. Not only does it allow us to see the character of children, but gives us insight in how to protect them by arming them with knowledge and decision-making skills.

Approach 1: "Your friend Stacy has been talking about running away. She is a bad influence. I don't want you hanging around with her anymore and I'm telling her mother."
Approach 2: "Stacy seems to be going through some rough times. Are you handling it okay? Do you want to talk about it?"
Handling it this way allows our tweens/teens to share how this is affecting them. Also, asking if Stacy has talked with her parents and evaluating that situation is crucial. Asking, "Do you think Stacy's parents should be concerned?" gives our children the opportunity to ask us to intervene and anonymously talk to her parents or even give them tools to help their friend talk to her parents.  

Approach 1: "Joey has been mean to you on Facebook. You can't be friends with him anymore."
Approach 2: "Joey has been saying some pretty hurtful things on Facebook. Is everything okay with you two? Let me know if you feel like he is crossing the line and want some help with your privacy settings."
Empowering our children with the ability to set boundaries and say enough is enough is a critical life skill. Also, validating them by acknowledging these are hurtful things being said about them, brings these comments into a new context.

We, as parents, know our children better than anyone else. We want to protect them from everything, but we cannot always do that. What we can do is arm them with knowledge and good decision-making skills. Social media and social networking tools is a good place to start.

If you are interested in learning more about cyberbullying, I highly recommend the book "Bullying Beyond the Schoolyard: Preventing and Responding to Cyberbullying" by Justin Patchin and Sameer Hinduja of the Cyberbullying Research Center. Dr. Patchin, a cyberbullying expert and criminal justice professor at UW-Eau Claire, was recently featured in a CNN Anderson Cooper 360­°television special focusing on Cyberbullying.

Check out the book at your local library.

Connect with me on my web site at, on Facebook, or on Twitter.

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