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Protecting Children with Special Needs from Cyberbullying - Presence

Teenage Girl Being Bullied By Text Message

Guest Post by Amy Williams

When we accepted the job of being a parent, we might not have thought through all of the details. We knew there would be long hours and sleepless nights. We accepted the fact that there would be tears and scraped knees. However, hidden deep within this unwritten contract are the gritty and scary scenarios no parent wanted to consider.

Bullying falls into this category and it can be a nightmare to encounter as a parent. Experts often state that children can be targeted for no real reason. Sometimes they are chosen for something silly like their favorite baseball team or the color of their shoes. However, victims are often individuals who lack the self confidence to stand up to their aggressor.

Children who have special needs are not exempt from bullying. In fact, they can be perceived as easy targets to those looking for peers to bully.

Bullying and Children with Special Needs

Bullying statistics show that 66% of students with special needs recall being the target of bullying in school. This is a staggering percentage when you compare it to the 25% of students who are victims in the general population. The data goes on to suggest that students who have special needs have 2 to 3 times the likelihood of being bullied than others in their peer group.

Bullying can be traumatic for any child to endure, but there is a new form of harassment emerging. Within the last few years, the cyberbully has emerged as a new threat that has taken sinister behaviors onto the digital plane.

Our children are connected with devices and technology at an unprecedented rate, which can allow aggressors 24/7 access to their victims. This form of bullying can be difficult to stop and the anonymity of the digital world continues to breed hurtful words and online media. Cyberbullying takes what used to be an isolated event and turns it into a constant barrage of attacks.

8 Tips on Looking for Cyberbullies

Children with special needs are often more trusting when it comes to interactions with friends or their peers. Many times, they don’t understand the dangers trolling the dazzling world of social media or game apps. Parents want their children to reach out and make friends, but they want it to be done in a safe environment.

Here are 8 strategies to help a child avoid the nasty side of technology:

  1. Limit the amount of time a child is allowed to use online social media or their mobile phone. Children with special needs might struggle with communicating their thoughts aloud and might retreat into the cyberworld. Technology can be a wonderful development tool, but opens up the risk of cyberbullying as well.
  2. Look for signs that your child is being targeted. Do they suddenly avoid the internet? Do they get upset when a mobile phone rings or a message pops up? Do they suddenly want to avoid school or activities they once enjoyed?
  3. Open messages, texts, and images together. Read messages with your child to get a good understanding of what is being sent. It also helps avoid unneeded suffering if you can intercept hurtful messages.
  4. Know who your child is friends with online. Limit friends to people he or she actually knows and beware of fake profiles created by bullies.
  5. Help protect your child’s privacy by setting the controls. Keep personal information guarded from trolls and predators.
  6. Watch your child when using devices and social media. You don’t need to hover, but always keep technology in living areas of the home. This will eliminate the temptation to snap racy pictures or hide cyberbullying.
  7. Include bully prevention strategies in your child’s IEP (Individualized Education Program). During your meetings with the school address concerns of bullying and ways to lessen their occurrences. This will allow more eyes and ears to be on the lookout for signs or events that could harm a child.
  8. Monitor your child’s technology activity. Stay up to date on the sites and games your child frequents. Use parental controls to see his or her contacts, messages, texts, and activity.

A New Job Description

As a child changes, so does a parent’s job description. Ultimately, our goal is to raise happy and healthy children who can enjoy life. Every now and then, we might encounter a “hiccup” in this process. Cyberbullying can be dramatic and heart wrenching, but it doesn’t need to derail your child’s lust for living.

Whether it is cyberbullying or a personal limitation, our job as a parent is to help our children overcome adversity. With some proactive measures and parental involvement, families have the ability to rise above and persevere.

Amy Williams is a journalist and former social worker, specializing in teen behavioral health. She believes that, in our digital age, it’s time for parents and educators to make sure parents and students alike are educated about technology and social media use, hoping to inform others through her writing.

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