Cyberbullying: How Parents Can Approach Their Child About it
Behavioral Shaping, cyberbullying, Digital Wellness, featured, mental health, Rachel Kwacz
Parenting is different for each generation. There was once when parents would chase their kids around the backyard with a cane because they did something wrong. In the last few decades, however, have been slightly different, parents who hit their children will be scrutinised for child abuse.
Once, doing squats while pulling your ears outside the house with your neighbouring friends watching was considered a proper punishment from parents. Now, public embarrassment may not even have an affect on the children – unless it’s the confiscation of their mobile devices.
The Gen Alpha children (born between the years 2010 and 2024) is predicted to be “ the most connected generation yet spend much less time talking to their peers in person.” Their parents are advised to look out for “clear psychological challenges with this generation as they will feel more alone, despite being so connected.”
While parenting tactics may have changed over the decades, one thing remains the same for all parents, even for those raising the Gen Alpha kids: to raise them into becoming functional adults in the future.
“The kids today are smarter in every way. They catch on to things very fast, and they will copy whatever they see or learn from anyone and anywhere,” says Debbie Soh, a mother of two Gen Alpha children – 7-year-old son and 4-year-old daughter. “One of the challenges of being a parent today is that, while we strive to provide them with a good upbringing, there are also other external factors that can influence them very easily – like the Internet, and their friends who are exposed to the unnecessary information from the Internet that may be unsuitable for their age.”
Known affectionately as “Cikgu Debbie” (or “Teacher Debbie) to her students, Debbie has seen some of the behavioural repercussions affecting the high school students at her tuition centre. Debbie shares with us her experience thus far in raising her children, whose upbringing is deeply integrated with the technological advancements of today, and which may someday reflect the same repercussions she is currently seeing in her students, if left unchecked.
Nowadays, before parents have the talk about “the birds and the bees” with their children, they have to make time prior to their adolescence to speak about the Internet and the potentially negative content that it brings; lest they get their lessons on “the birds and the bees” while at an age inappropriate website or streaming service.
“Parents play the most important part in this society, despite the technological advances,” Debbie shares. “I may be different from many other parents, but for me, I feel that as a parent, we shouldn’t stop them from knowing what is bad. We should create awareness on such matters, and to let them know what is right from wrong.”
There have been instances where the parents are watching Netflix with the kids, but more often than not, they were not able to mute the television when vulgar words were spoken. Debbie would then have to sit her children down, and explain to them what they heard is not a good word, and why they should not use them in their everyday conversations.
“Even though he’s just 7, I’ve spoken to my son about the F word. So, he knows the word, but because his mommy told him that it’s a bad word, he doesn’t use it,” she adds.
While we have mentioned before that prolonged screen time for young children will have negative repercussions on their mental and physical health, screen time for school and leisure may be blurred, especially during the pandemic when schools are closed, and education is brought online.
The American Academy of Pediatrics may have recommended 1 hour a day of screen time for kids ages 3 to 5, and 1 hour to 1.5 hours a day for children ages 6 to 10, personally, Debbie caps her 7- and 4-year-olds’ screen time at a maximum of 30 minutes to an hour a day – even during the country’s partial lockdown.
She says: “We can let our kids use the many devices they are privileged to experience in this day and age, but we have to let them use them wisely too. As parents, we have the right and the power to control [their screen time]. We need to set the example, and the rules as well.”
While her children are smart enough to differentiate school time and leisure time during the lockdown, even though both activities revolve around digital devices, Debbie has to learn things the hard way, when once, she allowed her kids to watch television for the whole day: “When I switched off the television, they became very cranky, and they started throwing tantrums! Their attitudes are so much better on the days when they only have their toys to play with, or their books to read.”
“So, the difference does show drastically in their behaviour,” she says. “The longer the time spent on gadgets will definitely bring about a bad influence on the kids’ personality, their lives, the way they conduct themselves, and the lack of relationship with people around them.”
Studies have shown that 76% of parents at least somewhat agree that the less time kids spend with screen media, the better off they are. Universiti Pertahanan Nasional Malaysia counselling psychologist Prof Datuk Dr Mohamed Fadzil Che Din has also mentioned: “If there is no gadget (to play with), an aggressive child will get angry and show behaviours such as kicking doors, banging the desk and so on, while those who are not, may show their anger in latent ways such as sulking, staying quiet and running away.”
When it comes to setting strict gadget time for the children, It does not count if the parents do not practise what they preach. Psychotherapist Christopher Willard, PsyD says that the best way to teach the kids to be mindful of gadget time is to practise it yourself: “The more we can avoid being on our phones at dinner time,… or show undivided attention toward our children, the more they will model the same behaviour.”
“Parents are the major influencers for the kids, and they definitely take after their parents more than anyone else,” Debbie says. “We need to always be attentive to what we are doing in front of the kids.”
She shares with us that once her kids “caught” her on the phone, doing her work a little bit longer than usual: “They came up to me and said: ‘Mommy, stop playing with your phone!’ That made me realise that they are actually observing me, and some things that I do, especially in front of them, have to change.”
Dr Willard also advises to be open and honest about what the parents want the children to do, instead of just telling them what not to do: “Instead of saying ‘Get off your phone’ say ‘Hey, I’m putting my phone down. Let’s go outside and do a treasure hunt, or draw chalk on the sidewalk, or play at the park.”
“When I let them know that I’ll be done in about 30 minutes, so that we can go have reading time, I’m telling them too that there is a time limit for everything that we do, especially when it comes to spending time on gadgets,” Debbie adds.
While Gen Alpha children may be “the most connected, educated, and sophisticated generation ever,” parents raising these kids still have to bear in mind that, like every child in the generations before them: they are kids with much to learn still, and patience should be practised all the time when dealing with them.
Besides being a mother to two Gen Alpha kids, Debbie is also a tuition teacher to many more high school kids at her tuition centre. Yet, when it comes to teaching her 7- and 4-year-olds on school work, she realises that she tends to be less patient with them.
“I have noticed that when I’m teaching my students, I don’t get angry easily, and I’m very patient with them. However, with my children, I’d get angry easily when what I’ve taught them didn’t get across to them,” she says.
“It’s something that’s a work-in-progress for the mommy in me,” she adds. “Because if I can teach my students with so much patience, I believe that I can provide the same kind of patience towards my children too.”
“The perception of children is very different from that of an adult. You cannot expect a child to grasp things or make logical decisions like you would, [and] you may need to repeat something multiple times for the child to grasp it,” Childventure states in its article. “It is only with patience and endurance that you and your child can understand each other.”