What Parents Should Know About Online Friends and Cyberbullying
Over half of U.S. teens have made a friend online. Many of these online friends live thousands of miles apart, sometimes across the world. Although they may not meet in person, the friendships that they form can seem and become real.
Cyberbullying is another thing that gets experienced by close to the same percentage of teens. While the two don’t always go hand-in-hand, the common denominators are the apps and websites where they get formed.
The online groups and social platforms that teens use may not be ones that their parents are familiar with or use themselves. Therefore, it’s not always easy to know when your teen has made an online friend or is getting cyberbullied. Below, are a few of the popular apps that teens are using in 2021.
Websites and Apps Teens Are Using
Discord: A popular group-chatting app that gives gamers a place to build communities and talk.
WhatsApp: Allows users to send and receive text and voice messages, make video calls, and share images and other content.
Kik – A free messaging app that also provides exclusive emojis, e-cards, and mini-games.
Instagram– A picture and video sharing app that also provides the ability to create “stories” that showcase up to 10 pictures and/or videos, which disappear after 24 hours.
SnapChat – Share videos and photos (aka snaps) through private and group chats. Like Instagram, stories can also be created with snaps automatically disappearing after 24 hours.
Teens and Online Friends
Just like in-person friends, online friends can become positive or negative influences. An online friend can make someone feel more comfortable sharing information about themselves because they feel less likely to be judged, and there are fewer connections to their in-person life.
One thing that can make online relationships dangerous is that it can be easier for someone to pretend to be someone they’re not, so teens should be taught not to share too much personal information when meeting someone new online.
Teens and Cyberbullying
It’s important to let teens know that they should always consider others’ feeling and speak up if they witness cyberbullying or if they become a victim themselves. If your teen becomes a victim of cyberbullying, you should explore what’s going on by asking open-ended questions such as “how often are you experiencing these mean comments online?” Like other kinds of bullying, the perpetrators of cyberbullying are more likely to continue if they’re getting a reaction. Teens who get cyberbullied should send the bully a short message to ask them to stop and then block the bully from their social network. You can also report cyberbullying to many of the social networks: Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook.
When Parents Can Do To Help Their Teens Stay Safe
I recommend that all parents establish clear boundaries on what is allowed and what is not. A social media contract can be a great way of spelling out social media rules and boundaries for teens and letting them know what the consequences will be if rules are not followed. You can create your own social media contract or find numerous examples online. There are also parental controls available, like eero Secure, which can help monitor and prohibit inappropriate usage.
The Three E’s (Empathy, Empowerment, and Engagement) is a framework that I often use in my therapy practice, and that can help parents form a stronger connection with their teen. Parents should ask their teens’ open-ended questions and set time to listen empathetically. Parents can empower their teens to share their opinions and encourage open communication by providing ongoing engagement and regular check-ins.