Remember the days when bullying meant meeting a larger kid in the middle of the school yard at 3 p.m. sharp for a good old-fashioned fist fight? Those days are long gone.
We live in a very technologically savvy world, and tweens are caught right in the middle of it. It's one thing to have an email account that might or might not be moderated by a parent, but many tweens have unprecedented access to social media right now. The result? Cyberbullying.
While some parents might argue that tweens need independence and building trust by way of looking the other way is critical at this age, I say that those parents are making a big mistake.
Instagram is the new social media hotspot for tweens. While on Instagram, tweens can share photos, comment on photos and download other photos. While it sounds innocent enough, many tweens have already found ways to bully their enemies under the cover of Instagram.
What they're doing
In addition to the questionable photos of themselves that some tweens choose to post, many are also tormenting other kids on Instagram. They are creating fake accounts in other kids' names and posting photoshopped (and rather unpleasant) photos of those kids. They are leaving nasty comments on photos. They are reposting photos with new, and downright mean, captions. They are morphing into Instabullies!
And they're doing it from their bedrooms.
You can't just hand over a smartphone or iPod and allow your child to use it without restrictions. If you provide the technology, you are responsible for the outcome. No matter how social media phobic you might be, now is the time to open accounts on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and anywhere else your child might spend time online.
Talk about it with the other parents and get savvy. The days of burying your head in the sand are over!
You bought it — you own it. Set limits with your tween when it comes to usage, appropriate apps and when to shut down. The best plan for families is to set up a central charging station in the parents' bedroom. Electronic devices should be turned in at a predetermined time each night, at least two hours before bedtime.
You are in charge and your tween needs to know it. Let your tween know that you will be checking all of the apps and phone usage daily and moderating email. The bottom line is that many tweens engage on aggressive online behavior at times. While it doesn't always qualify as cyberbullying, tweens need to learn appropriate online behavior. It's your job to teach them.
Check the feed
The problem with savvy tweens is that savvy tweens know how to create additional email accounts. This enables them to create additional Instagram, Facebook and Twitter accounts.
Check their devices carefully. Look through their Instagram feeds to see what they're viewing, and look through their profiles to see what they're posting. If you allow them to join social media sites, you are resposible for what they do on those sites. Instagram is not as innocent as it might seem, and parents need to wake up to the hidden dangers of tweens using social media sites.
Choose appropriate consequences
If you do find that your tween is misusing Instagram by bullying others (or simply posting inappropriate content), you need to take action. There can be no three strikes policy when it comes to bullying. Label it. Discuss it. Teach your child a better way to relate with her peers. Remove the device for a specified period of time and have her earn it back with kind and responsible behavior.