Before you hand over the smartphone, think carefully about whether or not your child is ready to use technology responsibly. There's no hard and fast rule about the right age for a child to have a phone, but their maturity level should be a big factor in your decision.
Wait until you feel your child is mature enough to communicate respectfully online with their peers, trustworthy enough to come to you with any problems they have, and wise enough to keep personal information private.
You may not consider yourself particularly tech-savvy, but it's essential to be familiar with the social media, messaging, and gaming apps and sites your child is using. Your child will be less likely to talk to you about a problem if they feel like they have to explain the technology.
A little research to learn how these platforms work can help you anticipate potential problems before they arise and help you better manage issues if they happen. A quick Google search like "How does Snapchat work?" will give you plenty of useful articles and videos that can help you become better informed.
Cyberbullies get more and more creative with each passing year, so while there's no way to foresee every tactic they might use, it's important to note a few beyond basic online harassment.
Cyberbullies may post unflattering, embarrassing, or even photoshopped images or videos to their page to make fun of another person. Kids can then share them on social media and spread the effects of bullying. Cyberbullies will also set up fake accounts to "troll" others anonymously, or may even set up a fake account pretending to be their victim and post embarrassing photos or messages. Cyberbullies may also take a photo or information that was intended to be private and post it in a public forum without permission.
Once you've taken steps to understanding how social media and cyberbullying works, talk to your child about cyberbullying. Make sure they can identify cyberbullying and know what to do if they see it.
Watch for examples of cyberbullying on your own social media feed and in news stories—use it as an opportunity for you and your child to learn more about cyberbullying together. Make a point of saying, "That is cyberbullying," to empower your child to call it by name when they see it. Set a good example with your own social media use by giving yourself healthy limits and modeling positive, respectful behavior online.
Help your kids protect themselves against cyberbullying by frequently reminding them to keep their personal information private and by making sure their privacy settings are as tight as possible on their various accounts. Work together to set clear rules about online behavior and to establish screen time limits. Keep an open dialogue about what sites they're using, what kinds of things they're posting, and who they're interacting with online.
We all know that the more tired we get, the less inhibited we are, and it's the same for kids. Setting firm limits on screen time, especially when it comes to messaging and social media apps, can help stop problems before they start. Devices like Disney Circle make it easy to set specific bedtimes for mobile devices, control the amount of time your kids spend on certain apps, and filter out websites you don't want them to use.
Cyberbullying might be happening on a screen, but its real-life effects aren't hard to spot if you know what to look for. A child affected by cyberbullying may become withdrawn, spending more time than usual attached to their phone. They may have strong emotional reactions when asked to put away their devices, and they may be moodier than usual. You may also notice them shutting down their current social media account or creating new ones and hiding their device from view when you're nearby. If you see any of these signs, it's time to start a conversation.