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Cyberbullying: A game teaches families how to stay safe online

Since Florida businessman Charles E. Mendez started a foundation to support Tampa Bay charities in 1964, thousands of families all around the world have benefited from the C.E. Mendez Foundation’s prevention education programs, such as “Too Good for Drugs” and “Celebrating Healthy Choices.” Now, says the foundation’s program development manager, Laura Marolf, they are taking on a new challenge: cyberbullying.

“When the Hillsborough County Anti-Bullying Advisory Committee was exploring the possibility of developing a cyberbullying awareness program for parents, it seemed like a natural fit for us,” Marolf says. “Addressing Digital Citizenship is a natural extension of our efforts to equip children and adolescents to develop their self-efficacy and interpersonal skills.”

Marolf shared details about the program, which includes a workshop and a fun game parents can take home that helps teach the whole family these skills.

Who do you hope to reach through these cyberbullying workshops?

LM: The Meeting Point workshops are offered to the parents and guardians of children and adolescents in the Hillsborough County area who use social media, gaming websites or interact and engage with others online.

The 60-minute workshop provides parents practical and effective strategies they can use to prepare their child or teen to prevent, manage and respond to cyberbullying.

You created a game that goes along with this workshop. Tell us more about that.

LM: Parents who participate in the workshop also receive a Meeting Point activity set to play at home with their families. The game is an extension of the workshop. Players are challenged to find the best solution to online dilemmas. The gentle competition in the game brings parents and children together to learn from each other to ease tensions and tighten bonds in a nonthreatening, relaxing environment.

Players have to listen for understanding and meaning and practice managing nonverbal communication and social awareness skills as they resolve the scenario challenges.

Meeting Point encourages parents and teens to apply their positive digital citizenship skills to identify and respond appropriately to cyberbullying events and to share their viewpoints on healthy and unhealthy online interactions. The goal is to reinforce family efforts to work together to keep online interactions safe and balanced in support of a respectful online environment.

What is a good age to begin talking about cyber bullying with your children?

LM: Set expectations of respect and courtesy as part of any interaction with other people from an early age. As children mature and their social interactions become more complex, layering in additional strategies to resolve conflict and advocate for one’s needs strengthens the readiness to bond with positive peers.

Children and teens are twice as likely to incorporate these skills and attitudes when they are part of the norms and expectations in the home.

How can parents be proactive when it comes to this subject, both in terms of educating and intervening?

LM: As with all efforts to prepare children to navigate the world around them, prevention begins early and begins at home. Open communication at home that is supported by the understanding that children can talk to their parents about anything is a significant protective factor to keep teens from attempting to solve problems on their own or seeking other resources that may not have their best interests at heart.

In the workshop, parents learn to identify the signs of cyberbullying-related stress, effective strategies to promote their teen’s positive digital citizenship skills, and best practices for developing an environment of open communication with their child.

For more information on the Meeting Point Cyberbullying Awareness Workshop for Parents, contact Eva Dyer at dyere@HCFLGov.net.


*Originally published in the May 2022 issue of Tampa Bay Parenting Magazine.

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