My kids aren't on social media sites but they talk to friends using iMessage. How can I be sure they're not talking to strangers or being bullied?

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Greg, WA
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Even if your kids aren’t on social media sites yet, it’s important to start an open, honest conversation about staying safe online from a young age and to continue the discussion as your child gets older.

Using iPads and smart watches to communicate with friends and family via iMessage can be a good introduction to online communication for them before they graduate to platforms like Instagram or Snapchat. Ideally parents will monitor their iMessaging usage in real time to see who they are talking to and what they are sharing. 

Have the safety talk.

Make it clear that they are NEVER to talk to strangers via iMessage or any other online platform. Discuss bullying and let them know to alert a trusted adult if they encounter any bullying or harassment. Share how emotions associated with bullying, like fear, can show up as physical symptoms in their bodies, like stomach aches. You can keep things general by asking about their social interactions using questions like, “Which friends are you getting along with right now?” or “Are there any classmates that you aren’t getting along with?”

Find the right time to talk.

It’s best to bring up tricky subjects like cyberbullying in a safe, comfortable environment. Avoid discussing tough topics when you or your child is feeling frustrated or defensive and try to check distractions, like phones, at the door. It can be helpful to use side-by-side communication so that you can both talk and listen without making direct eye contact. Opportunities like when you are doing chores together, while out for a walk, or sitting side-by-side at the dinner table can take some of the pressure off and allow you both to communicate with more ease.

Identify and ignore.

Teach your child to watch out for repeated patterns of bad behavior, and an overall lack of positivity. If someone is sending them text messages that are making them feel bad, it's likely a bully. By ignoring them, your child is likely to drive that troll away.

Build resilience.

Once your child can spot a bully, it's time to build resilience. Remind them that cyber bullies prey on vulnerable people, aiming to shatter their self-esteem. But when they embrace their self-worth and seek validation from within, bullies have a harder time getting under their skin.

Leave the door open.

Let them know that they can always come to you if they are having a conversation on IMessage that makes them feel uncomfortable. Try saying something like, “Whenever you want to talk, I’m here to listen and support you.”

We know how scary online bullying can be and you don’t have to take this on alone.  A mental health coach or therapist can be a great resource to help your child work through any emotions that come up, learn how to reduce their tech use, and build resilience.  We recommend checking out our article Kids online safety - best practices & where to begin.

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