MountainStar Health - August 14, 2020
by Lisa Waddle

More children will be on screens this school year due to virtual learning; here are ways to keep them safe.

In a school year unlike any other, back-to-school means virtual learning for many children. Along with the increased screen time comes an increased chance for cyberbullying and other online risks. Here are tips to protect your children whether they are on a computer, tablet, or cell phone.

How to Handle Cyberbullying

Online harassment is on the rise, with more than 36 percent of middle and high school students reporting being a victim of cyberbullying last year, up from 33 percent in 2016, according to the Cyberbullying Research Center. Help your kids understand they aren't alone and what you can do to help.

Know what it is. Unlike in-person bullying, cyberbullying is not so obvious. It involves sending, posting, or sharing negative, harmful, false, or mean content about someone else. It is generally targeted or repeated, and can affect both children and adults.

Watch for signs of cyberbullying. These include: Noticeable increase or decrease in device use; hiding their device screen when others are around; and a change in personality including a lack of interest in activities that were enjoyed in the past.

Report it. Talk with your children about cyberbullying and let them know that you are there as a resource. Report cyberbullying on the actual social media platform, suggest experts at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. If the bully is a schoolmate, report it to the school. Try to determine if more professional support is needed, such as speaking with a school guidance counselor or mental health professional.

Do not respond to a cyberbully. The Federal Trade Commission recommends that you block the bully and print out and keep evidence in case it will be needed. If your child is a victim, the most important thing is to talk to them about what's going on, how they feel about it, and what the're going to do about it, according to the National Bullying Prevention Center. Involving them in the process, not just taking over, will help them take control of the situation.

Online Safety Tips for Kids

Share these tips for online security with your children (and use them yourself!):

Explain information protection basics. Children need to know to create strong, secure passwords. Make sure they understand spam and phishing emails and calls. Talk to them about why it's important to protect their online identity, and how what they do on the internet can affect them in real life.

Don't check in. Be sure everyone in your family knows that sharing your physical location and posting it to your social media profile can be dangerous. You are letting anyone (including criminals) know your exact location, and making yourself easier to follow. Advise your child to wait until he or she is home to post about visiting a restaurant or other location.

Teach them nothing is free. Younger children especially may not understand that email offers of "free music" are not free. Explain that "free" services like Facebook sell your data to advertisers.

Don't text and drive. Texting and driving is still a major safety concern for teens. It is important to know that even touching your phone while driving is dangerous and illegal in many states. Remind them that if they need to use their phone for navigation or listening to music, set it before they leave or use hands-free voice recognition.

Avoid fake apps. Scammers have been known to create lookalike versions of legitimate apps in an attempt to trick you to download malware. Research the app before you download. Most reputable developers have a website that will highlight the app and also show any additional apps the company has made. If someone has been scammed by the app they may leave it in the comments to warn others. Only download apps from official stores such as the Apple App Store or Google Play for Android devices.

Together, we can keep our chlidren safe from both the health effects of COVID-19 and the negative secondary effects such as increased online dangerous.