Best Practices for Combating Cyberbullying


With where social apps are headed, we were not at all surprised to witness some enthusiasm surrounding the release of our Chat Add-On. While it is going to evolve over time, we felt it was important to address early on the security issues that are bound to arise from adding a social dimension to your mobile app. What's more, with school apps and an increasingly young audience turning to smartphones and social apps in particular, a reminder of best practices seemed all the more essential. Now, over to Cassie Phillips, from SecureThoughts:

Online chatting is nothing new; since the early days of internet relay chat (IRC), internet users have been communicating with one another in text for entertainment, for work and for networking. Increasingly chat services are also being used in apps to foster a greater sense of engagement for their audiences. While this is an excellent idea, there are some challenges to address.

While these services are used by adults, an increasingly vast audience of children and teens are also beginning to have easy access to smartphones, tablets, and devices with which they can access these apps. They too derive a benefit from these chat services, but at what cost? According to a number of studies done last year, social media services put children and teens at risk for cyberbullying.

The question then becomes thus: what do we as parents and adults do about it?

Privacy Online

Protecting our kids does not mean shutting them down. Inevitably they will find their way to use the internet with or without our permission. When they do, what determines their safety is what we’ve taught them. Rather than forbid social media usage and delay the inevitable, we must extend the bridge of knowledge across the moat of ignorance.

First and foremost comes education about maintaining privacy online. Children tend to lack the foresight needed to see around corners and identify the consequences of their decisions. You must teach them not to share too much. The following should never be shared online:

•    Full names and addresses
•    Account details (for any of their accounts)
•    Phone numbers and emails
•    Photos
•    Personal information about family members

Whenever possible, you should set up your child’s account for them until they understand how to do it on their own. Social media is best handled as superficially as possible. Remember, anything that goes on the internet stays on the internet, including embarrassing photos or private details.

“Stranger danger” is something else that seems obvious at a glance, but is not quite so apparent to kids when they’re on the computer. In person, it’s easier to identify someone as a “stranger,” but online it’s very easy to lie about one’s identity. Teach your kids to be skeptical at all times and to never accept people at face value online.

Until your kids have demonstrated a consistent track record of online responsibility, their activities should be monitored. Make good use of parental controls and only allow the use of computers or other devices in a public space of the house. More foot traffic means less temptation to act foolishly.


Education is absolutely critical, but it takes time. Until your kids understand the implications of social media, they’ll need some extra help. Unfortunately, you can’t be everywhere at once. That’s where you’ll need a hand, and there are several powerful tools at your disposal:

•    Parental Controls
•    Security Software
•    Your Peers

It takes a village to raise a child, and that goes double on social media. Knowing the people your kids talk to can help identify signs of trouble before things get too out of hand. Changes can happen gradually, and you may not notice unless someone else brings it up. Be attentive to what your peers have to say about your kids, as they may know about social media problems before you do.

Use parental controls whenever they’re available in chat services. Options vary, but may include limiting who your child can and cannot contact, the amount of time they can spend using the service, and what they can share on their publicly viewable profile. Just be sure to double check on them from time to time.

The devices your children use to chat should also be equipped with the latest security software. The best types of programs include Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) and online security suites. Both can save you and your kids from a variety of dangers.

Chat services allow people to post hyperlinks and sometimes share files. These files can be infected with malware, which may do anything from bring up pornographic content to steal personal information. A quality online security suite can help mitigate the chances of such a disaster.

A VPN also helps because it keeps your internet traffic secure by encrypting your connection and making your usage anonymous. This keeps hackers from injecting malware directly into your devices and reduces the likelihood of a breach if your kids ever use a mobile device on an unsafe network (which can lead to identity theft).

Know When to Retreat

Discretion is the better part of valor. Sometimes that means completely avoiding danger rather than facing it. There’s only one surefire way to help your kids duck out when things start going south: unplug. Know that completely shutting down should only be used as a last resort. Always look for other solutions first, such as blocking offenders and notifying service administrators of inappropriate or unwelcome behavior.

Of course, your kids assume part of the responsibility for not interacting with bullies and delinquents. They need to know when to ignore and block other users that are harassing them. Responding only feeds the fire. You just need to make sure they know when it’s time to leave it be. Just be sure your kids know the difference between taking something away as a punishment and taking it away to protect them. Suddenly shutting down their internet privileges sends a harsh message that can imply mistrust.
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