Did you know that April is Child Abuse Prevention month? With COVID-19 keeping the world at home, the likelihood that children encounter instances of online abuse have definitely increased.
While there are no definitive numbers connecting quarantine life with a rise in online bullying, it's fair to say that repressed feelings can only exacerbate feelings of aggression online, as we all have built up energy we can't use or show except to the online community.
Today, about half of young people have experienced some form of cyber bullying, and 10 to 20 percent experience it regularly.
With executive stay-at-home orders and curfews in effect because of the coronavirus, we have all been forced to quarantine and practice social distancing at home.
Consequently, the inability to gather and communicate in-person has led to social aggression or feelings of rejection, which ultimately leads to isolation. In terms of mental health, this is extremely concerning for all of us.
Cape Cod Times described our times perfectly:
"The combination of lack of scientific data on the virus, when its impact will subside, children and youth unable to attend school, increasing rates of unemployment and the impact of isolation are resulting in the increase of expressed hatred, bias and bullying. Negative statements are heard in grocery stores, expressed on social media, and uttered in locations where individuals can be heard. There is an increase of anxiety, mental health issues, domestic violence, racial hatred and physical and emotional abuse."
And where does all this abuse rest? Online. Certain law enforcement agencies believe that parents still need to monitor their activity.
So, how can we reduce and/or curb potential entry points where online bullying could come into you and your child's quarantine life:
#1: Limit the Amount of Time Your Child Spends Online
Whether your child is gaming online or engaging with individuals through social media, it's important you implement "computer time" for them, so they still remember that there is life outside of their own devices.
Growing up, my parents would allot my sister and I (depending on our good behavior of course), an hour or two to do whatever we wanted to do on the computer--whether we were playing games, looking at websites (content-friendly), etc.
By limiting the amount of time your children spend online, it instills a level of control over the potential for abuse your child may encounter (whether created or subjected to).
#2: Asking the Right Questions
While I recognize you can't be everywhere at once, knowing how to recognize the telltale signs that your child may be a victim to online bullying could alert you just in time to do something about it (before your child gets in too deep).
Asking questions like:
- Does your child suddenly get upset at things out of the blue?
- Is there a pattern or nexus as between your child's raised emotions and the technology they are using?
- Is the overall behavior your child gives off different? (Eating habits, sleeping patterns, daily interaction)
Being able to recognize these instances and asking your child about it, could just save them from a traumatic encounter (or future encounters).
#3: Practicing Good 'Digital Hygiene'
In 2020, we may be in a digital age, but these core principles of instilling what I call 'good digital hygiene' are still necessary and essential.
As a practicing internet and technology attorney, I began incorporating this phrasing into my vocabulary two-years ago following a Forbes interview I had with Herjavec Group CEO and ABC's Shark Tank investor, Robert Herjavec.
But practicing good digital hygiene, according to Herjavec, means doing the basics well, even in an advanced digital age.
"We have to double down on compliance measures, cyber-hygiene and the elements of a proactive cyber defense to combat advanced cyber threats," he told me in our previous Forbes interview. For more information from our conversation, you can read it on Herjavec Group's website.
Indeed, actually implementing these changes, depends on whether we are looking at it from the perspective of a parent or a child.
1. Teach By Educating Yourself First
From a parent's perspective, in order to teach proper computer etiquette to your children, you need to understand it. This means understanding the nature of today's threats circulating cyberspace, which includes bullying and cat-fishing.
2. Be Direct With Your Child. They Aren't Mind Readers
Additionally, you need to be direct with your child. This means actually having an honest conversation that your child and teenager can understand with respect to how stress and anxiety affect their daily life. Stress always leads to misunderstandings in communication, especially online where there is NO emotion.
Children and Teenagers
1. Stop Posting Your Personal Information Online
Remember, once you put yourself out there, there's no going back. Your identity is all you have, which makes it all the more essential to guard your personally sensitive information, including your age, date of birth, and your location.
2. Stop Sharing Your Location Online
So, if you think you're being "social" by "checking in" to places on Facebook, Instagram, etc., do you know what message you're really communicating?
- I. AM. NOT. HOME.
- YOU. NOW. KNOW. WHERE. I. AM.
3. Stop Accepting Strange Friend Requests or Responding to Weird DMs
As we've been told since as young as we can remember, don't talk to strangers...same goes online. If you get a friend request or direct message (DM) from someone you don't know, ignore it. Yes, I'm sure they are very pretty and handsome people...welcome to cat-fishing and the internet.
If a scenario is too good to be true, it usually is.
Lastly, if something makes you feel uncomfortable online, there's no shame in reporting it to that platform, but more importantly, sharing that discomfort with your parent or guardian about it.