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How Concerned Should Parents Be About Instagram?

The most popular social media app used by kids is YouTube, followed by Instagram. Owned by Facebook, its popularity has been steadily on the rise, as Facebook continues to work towards attracting a younger audience.

So, what should parents be concerned about when it comes to Instagram?  Do you know what problems can exist online?  Cyberbullying is the most commonly known problem for being online, but it’s hardly the only one.  It may not even be the most serious one.

Below, I will discuss the potential risks as I see them when it comes to using Instagram.

 What the Numbers Mean:

The numbers / ratings represent the likelihood that you will see the risky behavior occur within this app. 

  • Rating < 5  is minimal risk and is highly unlikely to occur on the platform, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t happen. Most apps have some risk to them in all of the areas, but specific apps have a greater tendency for it to happen either by the features that the apps have or from sheer volume of use by kids.
  • A rating of 5-6 should concern parents, but not overly so. Few apps may rate less than 5 on areas of concern, but most have at least rating of 5-6.  That goes true for apps that kids and adults use.  Basically what it means is that the possibility of an issue coming up is possible, but not overly so.
  • A rating of 7 or 8 is problematic. Not only should parents be concerned that the behavior might happen, they should be prepared for when it will happen.  It may not even by something that their child does deliberately.  Many predators hunt for children on apps that they know kids will be likely to use and kids often send inappropriate content to each other without asking if it’s okay first.  The problems in question may happen often or may be of a serious enough nature that apps with multiple ratings of this high should be considered high risk to parents who wish to keep their kids safe online.
  • A 9 or 10 rating is extremely concerning as that behavior is very likely – almost a certainty! It also involves issues that should be of extreme concern to parents, such as sextortion and child pornography.  I’m not about to tell you how to parent your child, only to give advice.  However, for any app that actually received a rating of 10 for one or more concerns, that’s an app that I will not let my own child use.

Catfishing (9 out of 10)

Like most social media sites, there is little, if any verification that the person using the account is who they say that they are.  As this video shows, it is all too easy to pretend to be someone else online and just as easy to use it to trick others.  It can go much farther than you might expect, as in the case of Notre Dame football star, Manti Te’o.  Back in 2013, he was tricked into believing that he was in a romantic relationship with a woman he’d never even met!

Cyberbullying (8 out of 10)

The potential for cyberbullying exists anywhere, even on LinkedIn, believe it or not. With Instagram, it can often come from pictures that the person posted which were meant to be silly or sexy. Body shaming is pretty common in cases like this on Instagram.

In other cases, it can come from online games, such as “Hot or Not” and “Smash or Pass”, where a collage of people is posted and others indicate if they think specific people are attractive or not.  Typically, the collage includes a picture of someone that the initial poster expects will be widely panned by others to entice others to participate.

Language (8 out of 10)

There is virtually no filter on what people say on social media platforms and Instagram is no exception.  This can include vulgarity and even hate speech.  Companies like Instagram may try to catch/eliminate hate speech, but overall, there is much that gets missed or intentionally left up on the site.

In the United States, Article 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996 has become a hot topic of late.  Essentially, it prevents social media companies from being held liable for what others post on their sites, declaring that while they host the content, they aren’t responsible for it.  Other countries have similar laws on the books.

Nudity (8 out of 10)

Online nudity is something that I’ve been very concerned about and Instagram is one of the leading examples of why.  In a previous article for Pediatric Safety, I explained more about what social media companies will allow and while there are some guidelines, there are plenty of accounts that post pictures and videos that most parents would probably not want their kids to see.

Many adult actors/actresses and lingerie companies have Instagram accounts that push those boundaries. Some even break them.  Often, especially in the case of the adult entertainment industry, they use Instagram as a means of attracting people to another site where full nudity is allowed, often for a fee.  Similar to language issues discussed above, there is just too much content and pictures are harder search for using technology than text to find inappropriate content.

Privacy (6 out of 10)

Most social media sites allow users to block specific people who troll or harass people.  Instagram is one of the sites that allows users to block everyone, so that the account holder has to choose to let people see their account.  Instagram calls that setting an account to “Private”.  It’s a great feature that more people need to use if they want to limit what others see.

Sexting (7 out of 10)

While probably not the app of choice for sexting, it certainly has the potential for being used this way.  That’s certainly true if they wish to include images that they wish to have seen by many people.  The reason why this didn’t get a higher rating is because Instagram isn’t really the best app for direct messages between two people, but it is still a place where people can post racy images, as I mentioned above in the section that discusses nudity.

Sextortion (7 out of 10)

Once someone posts an image online that incudes intimate content, they open themselves up for sextortion – blackmail of a digital, sexual nature.  Combined with being catfished, the video below is a very realistic example of how sextortion starts.  I frequently show this video when I speak at schools or with parents’ groups and the looks I see in the audience never cease to surprise me.

Several years ago, a photographer from New York City caused a major stir when he took racy images, mainly from people’s Instagram accounts and turned them into pieces of art, which he sold in galleries for serious amounts of money without asking for permission.  The courts determined that he didn’t need to ask for their permission or compensate them because of what is known as “fair use” laws.

If this can happen, then it’s not too hard to see how easily others might be able to use similar images for sextortion.  While very illegal, if someone makes such posts, it opens them up to the possibility of sextortion later.  The problem is that if the other person has already downloaded the image and the initial poster deletes it, it’s too late to stop someone from using the image against them.  The best solution to this is to never post/send such pictures under any circumstances.

Stalking (8 out of 10)

As it relates to social media, stalking has two areas of concern: online and offline and they are more closely related than you might expect.

Privacy settings, as mentioned above, can help, by helping keep unwanted visitors from seeing what your kids post.  Note that I said, helping, not eliminating/stopping.  Nothing is foolproof when it comes to preventing social media posts from being seen by unwanted eyes.  Nothing.

Even without online interaction, when someone has access to what an Instagram user posts, they can see what they’re doing by simply looking at their posts.  This is pretty common between romantic partners after they break up.  Even if one person severs the relationship on Instagram, unless their account is set to private, there is nothing stopping the other person from creating another Instagram account and seeing what they post (see above, Catfishing).

Viruses (4 out of 10)

Instagram posts themselves rarely have links in them.  That’s because Instagram does not support live links in posts.  If a link is included on a post, viewers need to copy/paste it into a web browser and most people simply won’t do that.  What can happen though, is a live link can be part of the user’s profile.  Posts then indicate that there is a link in the profile for people who wish to “see more” than what they’re seeing on a single post.  That post can be to anywhere and it can download virus/malware onto a device.

Bottom Line 

What does all this mean?  Overall Instagram’s scores seemed pretty high.   The fact is they were, and many apps that are popular with kids may look similar.  Digging into the details is where you’ll see the subtle differences that will help you, as parents, determine where you need to focus in order to keep your kids safe.  When it comes to Instagram, there are some basic principles that all users, but especially kids, should follow:

  1. Trust, but verify – Be wary of what you share with people online and who you accept to follow you on Instagram. Start by setting your Instagram account to private.  Whenever possible, confirm off of the app if someone requests to follow you; making sure that they really are who they claim to be.
  2. Assume that whatever you post on Instagram will be seen by everyone, not just the people who have access to seeing your posts. There are many different ways that can sidestep privacy settings, so while they are a good first step, they should not be assumed to be 100% safe.
  3. Never follow links posted by people on Instagram, even if they are your friends. They may have been duped into sharing a link that introduces a virus.  Only links from well-known, reputable sources should be followed.

By following these simple guidelines, Instagram can be a fun app to use. For additional information on how to protect yourself and your children on Instagram, check out Instagram’s Help Center.

If you enjoyed this article, please be sure to check back here, as I plan on reviewing other popular apps used by kids using this same method.  You can also check out all of my articles here on Pediatric Safety by visiting my profile and complete list of articles.

Preparing Our Kids for Global Digital Citizenship Success

We’ve all heard how our world is getting smaller – how our digital connectivity is conquering distance and outpacing time. But how does this closeness shape the way we interact with each other? More importantly, how does it affect our youth?

This is the reality: The way young people socialize online deeply affects the relationships they have with themselves and the people around them. We have to acknowledge that our kids meet and connect emotionally through their digital devices. They cultivate relationships through a number of virtual world connections – by joining social networks and receiving status updates; building lists of friends and groups; and receiving IMs, texts and video messages.

After hearing countless news stories about identity theft, sexting and cyberbullying, we’ve made the frightening discovery that sometimes wires and signals can separate actions from consequences. And we’ve seen our children’s misguided belief in anonymity slink in easy as pie and place their security, reputations and lives at risk.

But things are changing. Media literacy and global digital citizenship are quickly becoming the key issues in education and law enforcement. Dialogue surrounding the consumption and production of information across connected technologies is growing at a heartwarming rate.

And leaders are working alongside students, using their experience with the Internet, cell phones, MP3 players and gaming devices to create a framework around kids and teens worldwide successfully learning how to be good to each other while engaging in new media activities.

Twenty years ago, good citizenship took place in the microcosm of the classroom and was simply rewarded with a certificate. Today, with its millennial twist, global digital citizenship reaches far beyond the playground fence. Its stewards are enriched with a much deeper understanding of how their actions affect their own lives as well as those of their peers, at home and around the world.

That’s why students must take an active role in identifying and establishing ethical digital use. They need to be involved in the critical thinking and policy creation that affects ultimate change. It’s called buy-in, and these days our savvy students require it if they’ll be expected to have a healthy relationship with technology.

Defining successful global digital citizenship matters to all of us because it profoundly touches our youngest technocrats. Although they are swift enough to sync their social media profiles on their cells, they may not be equipped to handle the overwhelming cyber situations that erupt from uniformed decisions.

We all want to keep our kids safe, but that won’t happen if we create barriers and block device usage. It is only when we empower them to explore their connected world that they will be keyed into the pitfalls and advantages of social navigation across all platforms.

Does Your Family Need New Web Rules?

Having traveled the country working with middleschoolers and high school students to build their self-respect and spread respect for all, I’ve also spoken with hundreds of parents. And it’s no surprise that their top concerns are consistently issues like cyberbullying, sexting and online safety.

Keeping kids safe used to be about curfews and “Don’t talk to strangers.” But now, savvy parents are quickly realizing that the Web – and all the devices kids use to get online – needs to be a part of the family rules too.

Here’s my advice to come up with your own set of Web family rules that will keep your kids better protected – and give you some peace of mind:

1. Ask your kids what they think.

Nobody likes rules just handed down to them – and this makes getting compliance with the rules even tougher. Ask your kids: What are your friends or other kids doing online that you think is unsafe? When you’re online, are you ever worried about your safety? See what they say.

Then share your concerns, like: “I know that when you’re on social networks, anyone can talk to you, and I worry about people with bad intentions reaching out to you or trying to meet you offline.” Or “I don’t like cyberbullying either – what can we do about it?”

Also mention any concerns you have about other online privacy issues – like how hackers can steal identities or predators can lift personal information to try and harm your kids offline.

The bottom line: Get their ideas first for your family Web rules. They’ll have great ideas, and they’ll be more likely to buy into the rules if they help create them. Commit to yourself to listen to their ideas – without interrupting or criticizing. At The Respect Institute, the No. 1 way kids tell us they feel respect is: “When people listen to me.” If you listen to them in noticeable ways every day, when your kids face a safety issue online, they will be more likely to open up to you for support.

2. Set the rules.

With a quick Web search, you’ll be able to find many resources to help you round out your rules. Check out or for tutorials and tips. Once your family rules are set, talk them through with your kids. Ask your kids to comment on each one, pose questions and suggest changes. When your family rules are final, post them where everyone can see them.

3. Decide on consequences.

Again, have your kids do the work! Ask them what they think should happen if a rule is broken. Add your two cents. (As a parent, you always reserve your right to set the final boundary to keep your kids safe.) Then, write and post the consequences next to the rules.

Most important, create a space where your kids can ask you for help. We are all afraid of getting in trouble if we break the rules, right? But the goal here is to keep your kids safe. And that ultimately comes down to them seeing you as someone they can trust. So even though you’re all setting the rules together, let them know they are guidelines to keep them safe, and that if they ever break a rule or face a situation they don’t know how to handle, they can come to you. Let them know you will listen and you will hold off “freaking out” to support them. In the end, this kind of connection with your kids will go a long way to protect them.

Parenting Resources to Keep Kids Safe Online

In many cases, children are more adept at using technology than their parents.  Today’s children are Digital Natives, meaning that they grew up with technology and social media is a way of life for them.  They never knew a time without smartphones and social media.  For anyone over 30, their teen years didn’t involve posing for selfies, using emojis or having to worry about sexting problems.  However, as parents, we have more LIFE experience than they have and that’s what can make the difference in keeping kids safe online.

Many parents feel a sense of trepidation when it comes to what their children do online and that’s to be expected.    The concerns involve not only what can happen to their kids, but how do they help them get through the problems.  From cyberbullying to sexting and online predators, there are many real dangers to our children.  Shawn Henry, of the FBI reported that at any given time, there are an estimated 750,000 child predators online.

Fortunately, there are some great resources available to help parents with their concerns.  If you’re reading this now, then you’ve found one – Pediatric Safety!  Dr. Michele Borba, Dr. Lynne Kenney and others are here for you.  Dr. Kenney’s article on teaching kids empathy, while not specific to online issues, is spot-on about having life experiences that can help kids with problems of both offline and online matters. Kids with empathy are less likely to cause trouble online.

Below are several other resources available to you, including some free online sources and recommended reading to help parents understand more of what they can do and in some cases, use as teaching aids with their children.  They may not always listen to their parents, but when they see real stories about what has happened to their peers, it may open their eyes and make them more receptive to what their parents have to say about online safety.

Cyberbullying Research Center

This is by far, my number one, go-to source on the Internet for help when it comes to online (and even offline) bullying issues.  After all, cyberbullying is simply one more form of bullying.  It has specific attributes, such as staying anonymous, that physical bullying doesn’t have, but that doesn’t make it any less impactful or less damaging to the target.

Heavily focused on doing the research to make their case, Dr. Justin Patchin and Dr. Sameer Hinduja are outstanding in the field.  Too often, people may want to dismiss cyberbullying and its effects as being overblown or simply anecdotal.  These guys have done the research to prove the effects and they have plenty of free resources for anyone to use.

Common Sense Media

For parents looking for help on everything from what apps might cause problems to what movies are appropriate for certain ages, Common Sense Media is your best option.  The site is broken down by age, by topic and provides “ultimate guides” for many popular apps and websites.  There is a wide selection of material available in Spanish as well, which can be extremely helpful!  Like the Cyberbullying Research Center, they are heavily involved in research and can provide you with a lot of data to support their positions

Needless to say, I love this organization and everything that they do.

International Bullying Prevention Association

People who bully offline are more likely to bully online.  So, while their focus is not exclusive to cyberbullying, IBPA does provide resources to parents trying to understand what their kids are experiencing online.  Their dedication to bullying in any form, online or offline, is very hard to beat.  They have resources available for youth, family members, educators and more.

I especially like the resources dedicated to our youth.  Many victims of bullying never tell anyone, suffering in silence.  Just letting kids know that there are resources out there for them, specially designed for them gives them the opportunity to at least find some help if they don’t want to speak to anyone about their problems.

Darkness to Light

Child sexual abuse includes the sharing of intimate pictures of minors online.  Perhaps the most valuable resource they provide is working as an advocate for victims of sexual abuse within the community and at all levels of government in the U.S.  Education is great, but we need more people who will get involved in protecting our kids and Darkness to Light will do just that!

Unless you’ve experienced this for yourself, you can’t relate to how this feels.  Having known a family personally that has been through this experience, I know the kind of trauma it can bring with it.  If you ever have the opportunity to attend their training, I highly recommend it.

Shame Nation: The Global Epidemic of Online Hate

I don’t know what I can say about this book except that you should read it.  A target of online harassment herself, Sue Scheff, who I am proud to call a friend and a mentor, does an amazing job with this book.  Her storytelling teaches us how to avoid the problems that so many of us find ourselves getting into all too often.

These stories illustrate the real life repercussions that often accompany online actions.  We tend to think of cybersafety issues such as bullying and shaming as being mainly problems for kids, but Sue shows how it affects people from all walks of life and all ages.  Her examples of what I call the #OnlineMeetsOffline lesson is one that we all need to learn the easy way, not the hard way – by learning how to avoid it, rather than experiencing it for ourselves.

Cyberbullying and the Wild Wild Web

Jayne Hitchcock’s latest book is another great book that provides real-life examples of just how much is at stake when we go online.  The target by an online stalker, she knows full well how dangerous it can be – something that our Digital Natives may not fully appreciate.  While most people would agree that the Internet is largely a wide open, unmonitored and unregulated breeding ground for poor behavior, Jayne shows you quick and easy lessons to avoid problems from happening in the first place.

She uses examples of what can happen to create learning opportunities for people.  For families, the fact that the book is relatively short means that children may be less likely to be intimidated by it and actually read it.  Once they get started, they won’t want to put it down.  I was really involved in reading this book and couldn’t put it down.

Raising Humans in a Digital World: Helping Kids Build a Healthy Relationship with Technology

I love this book!  Diana Graber is a middle school teacher and a cybersafety advocate whom I’ve had the pleasure of meeting in person.  She uses great examples of how things can go wrong and shows us how to do them the right way.  Her C.R.A.P. acronym (Currency, Reliability, Author & Purpose) is a great way to teach the value of doing good online research for school – I now use it in my own classes at Thomas Jefferson University.  Diana is very adept at relating to teenagers and parents learn how to talk to their kids about the value of good Digital Citizenship even if they aren’t up on the latest technology.


The approach parents take is key to helping protect our children.  A heavy-handed approach rarely works with children in general and in the case of technology/social media, it’s too easy for them to get around any restrictions parents may place on them.  The use of multiple accounts on the same platform (known as Finstas) and easy access to zombie devices make it almost impossible to prevent them from using the apps, so it’s more important to make sure that they know how to do it wisely.

I know what other parents are feeling, because I’m a father to a teenage daughter.  Our ability to teach our children life lessons based on our own experiences is more important than our ability to use technology as well as they do.

What Not To Do if Your Child is Bullied Online

No parent ever wants their child to be bullied online.

Upset teenage girl with smartphone in dark roomBut if it happens, would you know what to do about it?  Better yet, would you know what NOT to do?  Too often, we focus on what we should be doing that we fail to consider what we shouldn’t do at a time like this.

Getting through a child being bullied will take a lot – mostly, it will take time and patience.  Here are six things not to do while you’re helping your child get past it.

1. Don’t Lecture

Best selling author, Stephen Covey, is quoted as having said that, “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.”  He’s right about that.  This is the time to listen to your child, not lecture them on what happened to them or what they might have done.

Right now, the child is probably scared, but maybe not for the reason many people would expect.  Being attacked can take a toll on a child, but what can make it even worse is the way that adults respond to it.  Being told that they need to be able to handle it themselves, being labeled as a snitch or having their technology restricted can all make children hesitant to speak out at a time when they need it more than anything.

Isolating a victim only makes it worse.  Instead, listen to what they have to say.  Ask for clarification, but try to avoid asking leading questions.  For example, instead of asking the child if that’s when “they posted the video on Snapchat”, ask them, “what happened next?”  It will provide a clearer picture of what happened and can avoid them taking shortcuts, potentially leaving out important points which need to be heard.

2. Don’t Accuse or Overreact

Next, don’t make it worse than it really is by overreacting.  After listening to the child, make sure that what’s being reported is really what happened.  There are several reasons why it may not be what it appears to be at first.

  1. Typos – We all make typing mistakes and auto-correct isn’t always our friend. One misspelled word or grammar mistake can dramatically alter the meaning of a message, making it come off very differently than intended.
  2. Having a Bad Day – Anyone can have a bad day, including the typist and the reader. Letting emotions cloud our perceptions can cause problems that aren’t really there.
  3. Confusion – Maybe the person who posted it simply wasn’t clear in their meaning. Or maybe the reader misunderstood what was meant.  Either way, no harm might have been intended.
  4. Failed Humor – I tell my students all the time that humor in written form doesn’t come off as it does when heard aloud. It often needs the right context and inflection to be understood.

When discussing the matter with others, especially with the parents of a child being accused of being the bully, keeping a level head can make all the difference.  State the facts of the case, but avoid coming off as inflammatory.  Just as you’re there to protect your child, the other parents are there to protect their child.  Making the case calmly can mean the difference between having an ally and having protective parents close ranks, eliminating the possibility of meaningful dialogue.

3. Don’t Tell Your Child to Ignore It

Being able to take an active stance against bullying can go a long way to helping kids feel that they have some control in their lives.  Studies have shown that the majority of kids being cyberbullied don’t report it to an adult, much less to their parents.  As Rebecca Fraser-Hill indicates in this article, feeling powerless is one reason why kids don’t report it.

Parents often tell their children that if they are ever attacked online, they should just ignore it.  That engaging with the bully is the wrong approach to take and the bully will move on if they don’t get a reaction from their target, so they should simply not engage and the problem will go away.  That made sense to me, until I attended a program by Christa Tinari from Peace Praxis a few years ago.  She advised the exact opposite and I love her reasoning.

Assuming that strategy works and they do “move on”, all you’ve done is set up another child for being bullied.  Instead, the target of the bullying needs to let the aggressor know, in no uncertain terms, that their actions are not wanted.  The idea is that the bully may not realize that their actions are as bad as they really are, making them stop their actions.

This can be as simple as replying back to the person and telling them that their message wasn’t appreciated and they should stop.  But it will vary, depending on the nature of the initial message.  Some messages are clearly a case of bullying, while others may fall under the four scenarios mentioned above in the “Don’t Accuse or Overreact” section of this article.

In some cases, the person’s intention was to bully and no amount of replying back from the target will likely get them to stop.  That’s where Christa’s next idea comes into play.  To reinforce the message to the bully that they’re wrong, Christa’s next recommendation was one that I’ve really taken to heart – the idea of Positive Slamming.  The idea is that when someone see another person being bullied (online or offline), that others should immediately come to that person’s defense. The more people who do it, quickly and publicly, shows the bully that their actions aren’t appreciated and hopefully, makes them realize that they’re in the wrong here.  It may not stop every bully, but those that believe that their behavior is perfectly acceptable and may even believe they have the support of their friends, may do a double-take and stop.  They need to be made to realize that their behavior is NOT ok.

While Michele Borba doesn’t call it Positive Slamming, her article on teaching kids to be active bystanders calls out many of the same reasons why we want to get kids to be active bystanders in bullying situations. The tricky part here is that those who are defending the victim do JUST that – defend the victim.  They should not go an the offensive and make matters worse.

Letting a bullying victim know that they aren’t alone in this and that there are people who care about them can literally mean the difference between life and death.  Just ask anyone who has suffered at the hands of a bully, including those who have been the victim of domestic violence.

“What hurts the victim the most is not the cruelty of the oppressor,
but the silence of the bystander.”

Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize Winner

In the event that the situation can’t be resolved through these ways, kids need to know that they need to tell a trusted adult what is happening.  It might be a parent, family member, teacher, religious leader or any other adult who can help with the situation.  Many kids resist telling their parents, but they need to have someone that they can trust in these situations and parents should encourage them to speak to an adult, even if it’s not with them.

4. Don’t Ignore It Either

As parents, we should not ignore what our children are saying to us, even if we think it’s a “little problem” that will likely resolve itself.  Doing nothing can send them the message that their parents don’t care about what’s happening to them.  Also, as Rebecca Fraser-Hill mentioned in her article, they may believe that telling about bullying won’t make a difference and that’s certainly what kids will take away from an experience where their parents tell them to ignore it.

Imagine then, when something even more serious happens, if the child does not come forward, because past experience has shown them that their parents will not do anything about it. Make sure they know – if they say something, you’ll do something.

5. Don’t Let Them Delete Anything…And Neither Should You

After telling a child that if they ever do get bullied online to just ignore it, the next bit of advice they might give is to tell them to delete it.  As much as we’d like to remove all proof of such unacceptable behavior, if there is one good aspect of cyberbullying, it’s that it leaves a trail, otherwise known as EVIDENCE!

Having emails, texts or posts/comments may be the only way to prove the allegations.  Print them out and keep a folder of them later.  If necessary, take screen shots so that if someone else is able to delete it (and does so), there is evidence to present to parents, school officials and the police.

6. Don’t Force Mediation between the Bully and the Victim

In conflict resolution, both parties wish to come to an agreement, but that’s not the case with bullying.  That doesn’t stop many people from forcing the parties involved from using mediation or conflict resolution techniques.

The bully doesn’t want the situation to change.  They like it the way that it is.  Conflict resolution assumes two parties disagree, but both want to come to a resolution.  It can also send the message that both children are partially right and partially wrong and we are here to work this out. But that is not the case. Bullying is one-sided.  The victim wants no part of it.  Not only is the bully unlikely to take the process seriously, it runs the risk of antagonizing them and could make matters worse.


Remember to avoid these mistakes and hopefully, a family with a child who has been bullied online will be able to get through it as quickly and painlessly as possible.

Parents need to put their priorities on making their kids feel safe and protected, while doing what they can to prevent it from happening again.

How to Stop Cyberbullying: Digital Citizenship for Children

“Cyberbullying” or “electronic aggression” means deliberately using technology such as smartphones, the internet, social media, or gaming environments to harass, humiliate, badmouth, or threaten someone. Like any form of bullying, online bullying can poison someone’s joy in life, reputation, and well being. An antidote is a substance that can counteract a form of poisoning, and teaching digital citizenship can be a powerful antidote to cyberbullying.

A citizen is an inhabitant of a place – and the online world is a place where most young people live a great deal of the time. According to Mike Ribble, author of Digital Citizenship in Schools and Raising a Digital Child, parents and educators are often like immigrants to the online world, while their children are like digital natives.

Many adults are intimidated because technology changes constantly and rapidly, and it can be hard to keep up with it unless you grew up with it. Fortunately, the values and behavior of a good citizen are the same regardless of whether you are online or in the “real” world.

A commitment to act with respect, safety, and kindness towards yourself and others knows no boundaries. The knowledge of how to protect yourself from harmful words, whether you hear them or see them, is the same. The importance of staying mindful is relevant no matter where you are. And bullying is unsafe, disrespectful behavior, whether it happens in person, on paper, or with electrons.

Here are five steps that parents and educators can take to teach their children and teens about what it means to be a good digital citizen in ways that will help to prevent and stop cyberbullying.

1. Set a good example.

Remember that the actions of young people’s close adults have a powerful influence on what they will do. As one teacher told me, “At our small private school, parents were gossiping, online and offline, about the troubles of one family. It is not surprising that their children started posting insults about a boy in that family who was having a hard time.”

Let the children and teens in your life see you choosing to stay respectful even when you are upset. Let them see you reaching out to communicate in person directly and respectfully with someone with whom you have a problem rather than complaining behind this individual’s back. Or, if this doesn’t work, going in person to someone who is in a position to do something about the issue. Let them see you state disagreements objectively and politely, without name-calling or sarcasm. Let them see you choosing NOT to “like” or share a post or photo that is hurtful or disrespectful, even if it seems amusing. If you make a mistake, let them see you saying so – and showing how you are going to make amends.

State your disapproval when people in positions of power and prestige act in harmful or disrespectful ways, even if you appreciate their winning a game, enjoy their music or films, or agree with their politics. Model balance by turning your technology off and doing something together out in nature or with other people without being connected electronically.

2. Stay connected with your children’s worlds online and everywhere else.

Every day, thousands of kids think about ending their lives because of cyberbullying. They endure torment their own parents don’t learn about until an emergency, such as a suicide attempt, calls the problem to their attention. Tragically, this is sometimes too late.

Protect and supervise kids until they are truly prepared to make safe and wise choices themselves. Kids are safest when their adults know who is with them, what they are doing, and where they are going. Remember that with technology, even if you are side by side with a child, you won’t necessarily know what online content they are consuming unless you are looking at the same screen. Discuss the Kidpower Protection Promise with all the young people in your care: “You are very important to me. If you have a safety problem, I want to know – even if I seem too busy, even someone we care about will be upset, even if it is embarrassing, even if you promised not to tell, and even if you made a mistake. Please tell me, and I will do everything in my power to help you.” Point out that cyberbullying is a safety problem.

3. Treat kids’ freedom in the use of communication devices as a privilege, not an automatic right.

As one mother explained, “I was horrified when I learned that my daughter had texted embarrassing photos and attacking remarks about a couple of kids on her swim team. I heavily restricted her use of her devices until she wrote an essay about the harm done by cyberbullying and gave it in person along with an apology to her teammates and coach that she rehearsed with me ahead of time to make sure that it was respectful and clear. Although she was furious with me, I felt that my child needed to understand the seriousness of this kind of behavior and to make amends.”

Make clear agreements so that young people know what their responsibilities are as digital citizens. Kidpower’s free Digital Citizenship and Safety Agreement provides a template you can use and adapt for your specific needs.

4. Teach kids not to do anything online that they wouldn’t want the world to see.

One transgender teen was shocked when they found out that a boy they had trusted had encouraged them to text about their feelings about their gender identity – and then forwarded these very personal messages to a bunch of other kids, along with sneering comments. The boy who did this was shocked to discover that he got into big trouble for cyberbullying that he had thought no adult would ever know about, especially since he had deleted the forwarded messages.

Young people need to understand that even though a communication seems very private and anonymous, and even if the developers claim their platform is private, what they do using technology leaves an electronic footprint that can become public, including to potential employers or college admissions offices. In addition, even if they delete it later, an electronic communication can spread very far and very fast, with much greater consequences than they ever intended. Sending or receiving sexually explicit photos of anyone under 18 years old, even if intended to be privately shared, and even if the photos are “selfies,” can be considered child pornography and trigger serious legal consequences.

5. Teach young people how to take charge of their safety and well being, online and everywhere else.

Part of good citizenship is knowing how to act if you have a problem that harms the well being of you or someone else. If you get or see a threatening or harmful message, don’t answer back and don’t delete. Take a screenshot, and go tell an adult you trust. One boy, “Max”, asked his parents for help after a couple of former friends had put up a Facebook page saying “I hate Max” that was “liked” by hundreds of kids in his high school. As you can imagine, this experience was devastating. Max says, “What helped me was having the support of my parents who got Facebook to take the page down and who kept telling me that what happened was not my fault; going to a counselor; going to a Teenpower class to practice what to do when you have problems with people; and finding some new friends.”

Practice Kidpower ‘People Safety’ skills such as how to: protect your feelings from hurtful words; set boundaries with yourself and others; communicate and connect with people in positive ways; stay in charge of what you say or do no matter how you feel inside; move away from trouble; and be persistent in getting help from busy adults. Practice ways to speak up, say “No” and “Stop”, and use other peer diversion tactics, and practice persisting in the face of negative reactions. Practice putting your hands down and stepping away from the technology when you feel tempted to post, agree with, or share something hurtful or disrespectful. Kidpower International provides educational materials and training in how to teach these skills to people of all ages, abilities, cultures, beliefs, and identities.

Finally, understanding about digital citizenship is useful for much more than stopping cyberbullying. As defined by Mike Ribble, digital citizenship has nine major themes for describing appropriate and inappropriate uses of digital technology (Ribble, Bailey & Ross, 2004; Ribble & Bailey, 2004a). They include: Rights, Safety, Security, Access, Communication, Etiquette, Responsibility, Education, and Commerce. CommonSense Media has a free curriculum with k-12 lessons based on these themes.


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