As we head into the New Year, I have been reflecting a lot on my parenting and growing up moments. Having a teenage son has taught me that today's dreadful teens is very unlike when I was a teenager, which, granted, was decades ago.
Teenagers and children nowadays spend a copious amount of time online. And it's not just fun and games and the latest film or show being live-streamed. There's a world of technology out there that they use to their advantage.
If you search "Kidspreneur" there are groups of youngsters buildings apps, launching online businesses and doing impressive things which are possible only because of the web. The internet offers a wealth of opportunity.
But, just like the offline world, we have the job of helping guide our children in making the right choices so they can build the skills they need to stay safe in today's digital world. The reality is that the online world holds the same joys and pitfalls as their offline interactions.
They make friends, enemies, share jokes, pull each other's legs, have fights, argue with people, have people pick on them - meet bullies and sometimes bully. And just like the offline world, there's as much chance that they might suddenly find themselves in an unpleasant situation they don't know how to deal with.
A lot of kids and parents ignore online bullying, either through the fear of the unknown or because it is "online" and therefore not "real". But nothing could be further from the truth.
|In this increasingly connected world, we simply cannot and should not pretend that online bullying doesn't exist. Credit: Eagnews|
India has been known to rank high in cyber bullying compared to other Asian countries in a number of reports.
As a parent, this is worrying. What's worse is that many parents and even teenagers don't recognise what constitutes online bullying.
Online bullying comes in many different forms and can include saying mean things, spreading rumours, posting inappropriate photos, bothering someone repeatedly, making threatening remarks, posting pictures of each other with body shaming comments - or simply writing rude comments to each other.
In this increasingly connected world, we simply cannot and should not pretend that online bullying doesn't exist.
To help parents deal with online bullying effectively, Facebook recently released a new Safety Center, which includes a Bullying Prevention Hub and a Parent's Portal.
The Safety Center provides resources, top tips and step-by-step videos for parents, teens and educators on how to stay safe online. Within the Bullying Prevention Hub there is specific advice for parents whose child is being bullied or is bullying others.
The Parent's Portal includes guides for parents on how Facebook works and tips for talking with kids about staying safe online. We worked with safety experts around the world to create these resources.
In India, we were supported by the Center for Social Research, an organisation who has been working towards empowering women and girls since 1983, and the Learning Links Foundation, who has been working with students and youth since 2002.
Through these resources, we hope to provide parents with effective solutions which others have found helpful.
We've identified a talk and action plan for parents and educators to deal with teens who are being bullied and those who are bullying others.
And while there are already some parenting Groups and Pages on Facebook, such as Super Moms, Indian Moms Connect and The Women's Coalition, the resources we have developed for parents through our Safety Center, Parent's Portal and Bullying Prevention Hub will help even these groups develop a better understanding of online bullying and how to deal with it.
The hope is that as awareness of online bullying increases, teenagers in India will also come together to build support groups for each other, much like PROJECT ROCKIT which was launched in 2006 by Rosie and Lucy Thomas - two Australian sisters who tackled the issue of bullying in school communities.
PROJECT ROCKIT has worked with thousands of school students and presented at major national and international conferences as (cyber)bullying experts. In 2012, PROJECT ROCKIT launched an innovative online anti-bullying curriculum, an Australian first in the fight against (cyber) bullying.
It's also extremely encouraging how children react once they have the right awareness of the effects of online bullying.
A few years ago, a freshman student from Hillsborough, Daniel Cui saw the power of his friends coming together against online bullies. Daniel was goalie on the school soccer team and when it came to the big game he didn't manage to stop the game-losing goal. After this, some kids in his school started posting photos of Daniel online, making fun of him, calling him "the worst goalie ever".
This could have been the story of a student being bullied, but more than 100 students changed their profile pictures on Facebook to show Daniel saving a goal.
What's important is that we educate and build awareness among our children on the rights and wrongs of the online world and how they can help and support others who are facing online bullying, much like they would in the real world.
At the end of the day, many of the same principles we apply to every day parenting also apply to helping our children navigate the online world and online bullying too. First and foremost is to let your child know that it's never their fault if they are bullied by someone, and it can happen to anyone.
Let your child know that the same rules apply online as apply offline. If your child doesn't want to be picked on, he shouldn't pick on others. And just because the bullying is happening online doesn't mean that they should ignore it.
A lot of youngsters accept it as part and parcel of being online, but that's where we need to explain what's right and what's wrong and what needs to be flagged to us as parents - or to their peers.
Also, it's important for parents to lead by example and try and be a good role model. I have seen that there's no point in me telling my son to get off the phone or iPad, if I'm stuck on it.
Have a schedule for how much time must be spent on social media. Engage early: even before they begin using social media platforms, talk to them about technology as a whole. Ask your teenagers to teach you about the new apps and sites. It can help lay the groundwork for future conversations.
What we need to do is start the conversation. I don't think it's possible or even advisable to restrict children from using social media or the internet totally. The best option is to be their friend - talk, share and learn together.