A new study conducted at the University of Buckingham reveals a significant level of parental ignorance and denial when it comes to cyberbullying. The report, Beyond The School Gates, was based on interviews with 320 kids between the ages of 13 and 18, and 120 of their parents. Despite the increase in high profile cyberbullying cases covered by media outlets all over the world, too many parents are still deeply rooted in the ‘not my kid’ syndrome.
What Did The Study Find?
- 53% of teenagers reported that someone had posted their picture online to embarrass them but only 22% of parents believed this had actually happened.
- 17% of teens reported being threatened online and 93% of parents did not believe this had happened to them.
- 17.8% of teens admitted spreading rumors about someone online yet 93% of parents thought their child did not spread rumors online.
As a clinician who has worked with tweens, teens, and their parents for over 20 years, I am often on the front line when it comes to challenging parental denial. With the rapid acceleration of technology and all things related to smartphones and social media, it is more important than ever for parents to step out of denial so they can effectively parent in cyberspace.
Parents often believe that they have open communication with their teen, but when it comes to cyberbullying, most kids won’t confide in their parents, regardless of how positive the communication may be around other issues. Kids fear that parents will restrict their online privileges and also assume that parents will make the situation worse and embarrass them.
This study revealed that teenagers often don’t trust adults. About half of the teens surveyed said they would confide in a friend and 16% said they wouldn’t tell anyone at all. An alarming 18% of teens said that they would have no idea how to handle a dangerous situation online, like cyberbullying.
Consequences Of Cyberbullying
- The National Education Association in the United States reports that approximately 160,000 children miss school every day due to fear of being attacked.
- The Beyond The School Gates study found 27% of teens did not want to go to school because of something that was said or done to them online.
In addition to missing days at school, feelings of depression, social isolation, loneliness, and anxiety, in The United States, it is estimated that 1 out of 10 students who drop out of high school do so because of repeated bullying. Obviously, the time has come for parental involvement and that needs to happen in cyberspace, more specifically, it needs to happen on your child’s smartphone.
Dr. Popovac, the author of Beyond The Gates, in response to his research, said the following;
“We need to take action to address online safety by equipping children and adolescents with digital skills and building resilience so that they can learn to navigate the online environment and the risks they may encounter. We also need to include parents in online safety efforts and work with schools to ensure a coordinated approach going forward.”
In theory, yes, we need to do a better job giving tweens and teens the tools necessary to handle difficult situations online, but even when kids do have the skills, they often don’t use them.
Parents either forget or don’t realize that the adolescent brain is not yet fully developed. When it comes to decision making, teens are more likely to rely on emotion, rather than logic. This might explain why even those well equipped with knowledge and coping skills are still making significant mistakes online.
How many times do we have to see media coverage about really smart teenagers making life-altering online mistakes before parents will let go of the ‘not my kid’ syndrome?
Beyond The Gates revealed that almost 65% of teenagers said that they could do anything they wanted online without anyone checking up on them. If 13, 14, and 15-year-olds believe they can do anything online with no parental supervision, we are in big trouble.
There is a new paradigm in response to the unparented world of smartphones and that is Social Judo. It is the most technologically advanced parenting tool for smartphones, tablets, and computers. No more spying or scrolling through your child’s device, this tool simply sends parents real-time alerts about the things their kids are doing that could cause irreversible, long-term damage. Don’t you want to know?
If you are a parent who believes ‘not my kid’, then I challenge you to be brave and to get inside your child’s social media world. The research continues to show that what you think is true about your child is not at all what the facts reveal.
Andrea Difilippo is a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker, nationally recognized parenting expert and Chief Parenting Officer with Social Judo.