Think your kid’s being bullied online? Don’t just read their messages

Children have a right to privacy, but parents also have the obligation to intervene if they suspect their child is being bullied online. — dpa

As soon as children get their first smartphone, parents have to deal with the fact that they are constantly messaging.

The sheer number of texts that sometimes arrive per minute might cause concern. After all, bullying on social media and messenger apps has become an all-too-common problem.

But even if you have grounds to be worried, you should try and follow certain rules when monitoring your child’s messaging habits and honour their right to privacy.

Messages are not unlike a personal diary, and you should never read anything in secret. Instead try to do it together with your child, social education worker Dana Mundt says.

Many messenger apps have an official age limit – WhatsApp users within the EU, for example, technically have to be at least 16 years old. In reality, however, things look quite different.

In times of remote learning and curfews, chats have become an even more popular tool for kids to keep in touch with their friends, regardless of their age.

Most importantly, parents should watch out for their children online and not simply leave them to deal with the risks of messenger apps alone.

“It’s not just 11-year-olds who can be quickly overwhelmed and put under pressure by the heap of messages,” Mundt says.

In order to deal with this kind of pressure, parents and children should decide together during which time the child is online every day, and what kind of information should be shared in chats.

Photos or personal details about the family, for example, shouldn’t be sent to the rest of the class. Parents naturally also have a role model function at this point.

If you sense that something is off or note that your child is acting differently, it makes sense to offer to talk, instead of interrogating: “It’s alright if you messed up, but please talk to us. We’re here and we’ll help you” could be one way of offering support. – dpa

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