Whilst many children on the Autism spectrum experience bullying, the one threat that they are most prone to is Cyberbullying. Many children with Asperger’s and Autism love spending time online, and interacting with friendship sites such as Facebook, Twitter, forums or chatrooms. Online friendships can be less threatening and less stressful as they are often able to connect with people, just like them, all over the world.
However, with any online activity, whilst it can be fun and interesting, there are also some dangers and risks involved. Cyberbullying is one area of particular concern for our children as they can be too trusting or naive in picking up the signals if an online friendship is either not appropriate or they are being made fun of. Often, they also enjoy interacting with friends from school online, because they can feel a part of the group and it is less threatening than the noisy, stressful nature of the playground. But therein lies the problem, as interactions which take place online after school can be potential cyber-bully havens.
According to statistics from the National Crime Prevention Council in the US:
43% of teens have been victims of cyberbullying in some form.
81% of teens cyberbully because they think its funny.
80% of teens say they either don’t have rules about internet use or have found ways around the rules (does this ring any bells?)
Only 11% of teens talked to their parents about cyberbullying, with the #1 reason being that they were concerned their parents would take their internet privileges away.
As in all situations in life, the best defense you have is to talk to them about the potential risks of cyberbulling and create and role-play some strategies that will help to empower your child before an issue arises
1. Teach your child how to block cyberbullies and if they receive a bullying message delete it without reading it. Bullies gain their greatest pleasure from the reactions of the victim.
2.Show them how they can report cyberbullies to the Internet Service Provider or webmaster of any site. Facebook in particular has very strict guidelines against cyberbullying and you are able to report incidents of abuse through the ‘report abuse button’ on your child’s home page or report bullying to their Facebook Safety page. There is now also a free online tool available to parents to help monitor their teenagers’ facebook posts http://www.gogostat.com/Home/Parental if you are concerned about their online activity.
3. Check your teenagers privacy settings on Facebook regularly, as they are renown for changing the privacy settings without telling subscribers. Sit with your child on a monthly basis (even if they complain) and check their privacy settings and revisit who their friends are.
4. Remind your teenager never to give our their password to ANYBODY, except you. Even if you have to sound like a dripping tap for a while – keep reminding them about the importance of privacy on the internet and not giving out an personal details like address or phone number.
5. If you have a younger or preteen child there are many software programs now available where you can monitor your child’s internet use, including which sites they are going to and how long they spend on each program. If your child is a preteen or adolescent, this may be a great investment. Some of these include Net Nanny, I am Big Brother and Content Manager.
6. When you have having general conversations about privacy also use the time to reiterate that you will not revoke their on-line time if they tell you if they are being cyberbullied. They need to know that that can talk to you and you won’t react by taking away their internet privileges. It’s not fair to punish the victim.
7. Talk to your child about why people cyberbully; encourage them to think about how cowardly a cyberbully is. It is also a great opportunity to role-play with your child about how to deal with misunderstandings; how to speak to people appropriately and how to recognize true friends.
8. The best thing about cyberbullying (if there is one) is that it can be recorded. If your child is being systematically cyberbullied, and it is becoming concerning, help them to take a screen shot of the interactions so if you need to, you can hand it over to your child’s school or in extreme cases, the police. (Don’t worry they will show you how to take a screen shot!)
9. It is extremely important to tell your child not to retaliate either online or in person. Reacting will only inflame the situation. Sadly, some cyberbullying incidents end in violence, and especially if your ASD child has difficulty in explaining in detail what is actually happening, it can end up with your child being victimised or blamed for any retaliatory action. This is a complicated issue that needs to be dealt with rationally by adults.
10. Keep the lines of communication open and don’t take anything for granted. Watch for changes in your child’s normal behaviour or demeanor. If something doesn’t feel right, it probably is not. Your ASD child may have more difficulty in explaining or understanding what is really happening and you may need all your intuitive detective skills to get to the bottom of an issue. If they know that you are not going to over react, and you have already had many open, non-threatening conversations, they are more likely to open up quickly and share their concerns with you.
Have you got other tips that you can suggest? I invite you to go to our Cyberbullying discussion on our Facebook page AspergersParentConnect to add any ideas you have found worked for you.