Don’t ban kids from devices, says cyberbullying expert

Parents should not ban their children from technology, an international cyberbullying expert has warned.

Cyberbullying expert Dr Sameer Hinduja advises parents to be involved with their children and technology.

“With parents and their children’s technology, you want to be involved. If you blame or are judgemental or ban the technology, it only gets the child to retreat back into their turtle shells,” Dr Sameer Hinduja told the Irish Examiner.

He is a professor in the school of criminology and criminal justice at Florida Atlantic University and co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Centre.

Dr Hinduja is currently working with the National Anti-Bullying Research and Resource Centre (ABC) at Dublin City University (DCU), where he delivered a public lecture last night.

“My lecture was aimed at giving school professionals and parents practical and clear strategies to reduce the various forms of technology abuse, so cyberbullying, sextortion (a form of blackmail involving sexual imagery), revenge porn (where a former partner shares sexual information about you without your consent) and digital dating abuse,” said Dr Hinduja.

The international expert has also co-authored a white paper on cyberbullying for the White House.

He outlined several practical things parents and educators can do.

“One thing schools can do is to create a positive school climate where there is a sense of belonging and connectedness. It’s important to bring the youth on board while doing this as they are the most important catalyst for change.

“Another thing we can do is to increase awareness of kindness movements. There are many kids using social media for kindness, to spread positive messages, where they are not just consumers but creators too, using technology for good,” said Dr Hinduja.

At home, he said the development of empathy and resilience was important.

“In the household then, cultivating empathy is important. Kids can live and die by what their friends are saying about them and it’s where they get their sense of worth from but it’s important to teach them that their role in doing something amazing, like caring for the less fortunate, is another way to develop a sense of identity and worth.

“Resilience is another factor. We want a child to feel that they can solve the problem on their own. We can allow them to face adversity but while supporting them.”

In terms of a parent “banning” a device, he said: “Technology is here to stay, we are not going back in time.”

From research he conducted, which is about to be published, it was discovered than from 5,000 youths, “one third of 12 to 17-year-olds have been cyberbullied in the US”.

In Ireland (based on three studies), about 10%-20% of children have been cyberbullied, he explained.

If an incident of cyberbullying occurs, Dr Hinduja advises parents take four steps.

“Firstly, make sure a child is safe and emotionally stable. Then take screenshots of everything and gather as much digital evidence as possible,” he said.

“Go to the school and report it; cyberbullying is usually done by a peer, not a stranger.

“Then tell the child that they control their own digital environment by defriending someone or unfollowing a person.”

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