As parents of children with special needs, it’s no great secret that our boys and girls will encounter a lot of adversity in their lifetimes. Unfortunately, this also includes bullying in a variety of forms. In the past, bullying was limited to school playgrounds or hallways. Today, however, bullying has been given a digital upgrade and can now find a child anywhere, anytime, and even from the safety of their own homes. It’s easy to say that this won’t happen to our children, but we must consider the facts that research shows 87 percent of all kids have encountered cyber-bullying!
Bullying and Children With Special Needs by Hilary Smith
That statistic is disheartening on many levels, but especially when we consider that there is a strong correlation between children with special needs and elevated levels of bullying. One study from the British Journal of Learning Support noted that “60 percent of students with disabilities reported being bullied, compared to 25 percent of the general student population”. To support these findings, other studies have found children with special needs are two to three times more likely to be targeted by bullies.
This means that our worst fears might be substantiated. Simply, because our kids were born with food allergies, epilepsy, diabetes, ADHD, learning disabilities, or other special needs they tend to be more vulnerable to bullying. This probably occurs, because our children may already be dealing with self-esteem issues and many of their classmates are aware of our child’s differences. However, that doesn’t mean we have to sit back and watch it happen to our sons and daughters.
How to Protect Your Child with Special Needs from Cyber-bullying
No child should have to experience bullying. But, it is a fact of life that kids can be cruel and make bad judgments. That makes it essential that we take proactive measures now to prevent a situation from developing. Listed below, are 11 tips to help us protect a child with special needs from cyber-bullying:
- Make safety a priority. We are the best advocates for our children. If we suspect a problem or have evidence of bullying, be sure to seek help from school personnel and community leaders if needed. Bullying tends to escalate when nobody takes action.
- Take screenshots and have a child save messages if intervention from the authorities or school administration is needed.
- Help children set up their privacy settings for their phones, devices, and social media profiles. Surprisingly, 39 percent of kids don’t enable their privacy settings! This is scary, because many apps and social media sites share personal information, locations, and more with others!
- Never share passwords- even with friends. Unfortunately, many acts of cyber-bullying happen when friends get in arguments. The only people a child should share this information with is us- their parents. As a safety precaution, have access to all their passwords, accounts, profiles, and game sites.
- Only allow children to friend people they actually know in real life. For added safety, periodically check a child’s online friend lists to make sure you personally know them.
- Clearly discuss what is and isn’t appropriate behaviors on the Internet, cell phones, gaming systems, and social media. We can’t expect our sons and daughters to know how to behave if they haven’t been taught. Let them know they should only say nice things and they should never sext or send intimate photos if asked. Consider implementing a family technology contract to clearly state the rules, expectations, and consequences for using technology
- Keep devices in common living areas. Almost 70 percent of teens admit to taking measures to hide their online activity from us. We can reduce the temptation to take part in risky online behaviors by keeping technology in open areas like the living room and out of secluded bedrooms.
- Kids need to know it’s not okay to use name calling. Many children with special needs are often unaware that people are being cruel and they need to understand that sometimes “friends” aren’t being nice. Encourage children to tell you if they encounter anything that makes them feel uncomfortable.
- Practice reactions and appropriate responses to bullying. By teaching a child ways to remain calm and seek help, we are empowering our children and taking away the reaction many bullies desire.
- If necessary, use monitoring software to stay on top of a child’s online activity. Just remember to be upfront that you will be checking in on them from time to time.
- Remind a child that things will get better. Make sure kids understand this is only a rough patch and better times will come.
What suggestions can you share on how to protect your child with special needs from cyber-bullying?
About the Author: Born and raised in Austin, TX, Hilary Smith is a free-lance journalist whose love of gadgets, technology and business has no bounds. After becoming a parent she now enjoys writing about family and parenting related topics.