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October 17, 2016 —
Every month, we keep you informed on the latest studies and research in our “Not My Teen” blog series. Today, we’re looking at the study behind CNN’s documentary “#Being13: Inside the Secret World of Teens,” and what psychologists have to say about parents’ role in preventing cyberbullying.
In addition to October being National Medicine Abuse Awareness Month, it’s also National Bullying Prevention Month. While most parents are aware that cyberbullying is an issue among today’s teens, CNN’s 2015 documentary “#Being13: Inside the Secret World of Teens” suggests that parents underestimate the extent of cyberbullying in the lives of both teens and tweens.
The film was based on a study conducted by the University of California, Davis and the University of Texas at Dallas in which child development specialists monitored the social media accounts of over 200 teenagers for six months.
What did they find? Demeaning photos, “sexting” and evidence of other risky behaviors, such as alcohol, drug and medicine abuse. Even more shocking were the cruel, competitive online interactions that happened regularly among the participants. Cyberbullying was a recurring problem for almost every teen – as both victims and instigators.
How can parents address this issue? According to a recent article in The Washington Post, parents have more influence over their teen’s online behavior than it may seem. Here are three ways parents can help prevent cyberbullying:
1. Don’t Play Status Games
If parents are overly involved in their teen’s (or their own) popularity and appearance, they may instill a sense of competition rather than camaraderie in their teen. As stated in the Washington Post article, “Placing a high value on social climbing… could create an unhealthy sense of rivalry in teens who prioritize popularity over true friendship.” Teens who put social status first are more likely to post hurtful comments to tear down their peers and lift themselves up.
Have conversations with your child about how to be a good friend and how they should expect to be treated by their friends. You can also be involved in your teen’s social life by getting to know their close friends and fostering open and honest communication.
2. Monitor Their Lives Online
Several parents featured in the documentary thought that they monitored their teen’s social media presence, but were shocked when confronted with their teen’s posts. Many of them confessed they wanted to respect their teen’s privacy or didn’t feel they had a real reason to monitor them closely.
However, psychologist Robert Faris, a child development specialist involved in the study, says that parents who monitor their teen’s social media presence can “effectively mitigate cyberbullying.” Teens are far less likely to cyberbully or post inappropriate content if they know their parents are watching.
When parents join the same social media sites as their teens, it becomes easier to navigate the digital aspect of their social lives. Become your teen’s Instagram follower or Facebook friend and follow the same accounts they do to gain a better understanding of the social landscape.
3. Ask Questions
The documentary “#Being13,” shows the subtle ways that teens bully each other online, such as untagging a friend in a photo, sub-tweeting or using sarcasm that might fly under a parent’s radar. Asking your teen about the meaning behind a post is one way to understand these nuances and prevent online hostility.
To avoid making your teen feel interrogated, let them know there is no right or wrong answer when discussing their online activity. Make sure to ask about the positive aspects as well. Despite instances of cyberbullying, social media can be a fun and affirming place for teens. When you foster open communication about the good and the bad, you can monitor your teen’s digital life more easily and minimize cyberbullying.
Being proactive online is one way to be proactive in your teen’s life. If you have tips or experience monitoring your teen’s social media presence and/or dealing with the issue of cyberbullying, let us know in the comments below.