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How to Keep Your Kid From Being an Online Bully

A couple of years ago, a picture of my son appeared on Instagram. It was edited and layered and captioned with a John Mayer lyric. Although I was tagged in the photo, I didn't recognize the account. That was the day that I realized that Instagram wasn't just for photo sharing.

My husband is a musician and, although I'm a psychotherapist, I'm also a writer. It's difficult to set family and "real life" friend-only boundaries on social media when your work is out there. People find you. More often than not, people are kind and supportive. But that picture of my little boy, the one I didn't approve of or even know existed, caused me to rethink everything.

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As it turns out, the account was a "second account" for someone I do know well, and that person snapped the photo with her phone. That was a relief. But I took the opportunity to reevaluate my use of Instagram.

Where I once used Instagram to share family moments, I now use it in a different way. Very rarely do I share pictures of my kids facing the camera these days. I share small moments of happiness, but I don't share details.

I wouldn't say that I'm paranoid about sharing photos—I'm no professional photographer, that's for sure. I'm not sure any of my pictures are worth scraping for reuse. What I realized along the way is that I want to keep those moments private. I want my family moments to be mine (or ours, really). So I started following my own rule when it comes to sharing—wait one minute before hiting post, then decide if something is really worth sharing.

It's difficult to navigate the use of social media with tweens and teens. Technology evolves at an alarming rate, and tweens and teens are well aware of all things new and shiny when it comes to apps. You can't control it. But you can help them learn to be kind online.

The trick is to start the conversation early, as in before they even have access, and repeat it often.

My 8-year-old daughter recently asked me about Instagram. Evidently it was the talk of the 2nd grade last week. We talked about sharing memories online, connecting with other people through apps and what it means to be kind online. We discussed asking before sharing and only sharing positive images (even if that earns me "Fakebook" status).

Then I let her scroll through my Instagram photos. She was surprised that the pictures of her didn't show her face, because I take so many pictures every week. She knows that she looks directly into the camera more often than not. And that's when we circled back to privacy. Even at 8, she needs to know that she has a right to privacy.

In her new book, "Kindness Wins," author Galit Breen helps parents teach their kids how to be kind online. "I know we need to directly teach our children the most vital lessons," says Breen, "rather than assume that they'll be understood."

Try a few these strategies to help teach your kids to be kind online.

Practice together

According to Breen, the best way to help our kids learn to spread kindness online is to give them opportunities to practice. Not only do they need to see what's happening with kids their age online, they need to discuss it.

Friendships play out in clips and snapshots on social media, and this can complicate real-life relationships.

Show them pictures and comments. Discuss what the comments might mean and ask your child to point out kind vs. unkind comments. Don't worry if your tween or teen has difficulty identifying potentially hurtful comments or hashtags at first. Learning to navigate the nuances of social media takes practice and patience. Open communication is the best way to empower your kids to make kind choices.

Think beyond the screen

Friendships play out in clips and snapshots on social media, and this can complicate real-life relationships. A kid might be listed as a best friend one day and then nothing the next. When one kid is habitually cropped out of the photo, feelings are hurt.

Teach your child to think beyond the screen. At the other end of any given social media feed are other eyes, and those eyes might feel hurt, jealous or rejected in response to certain photos, comments and Instagram games. Kids need to learn to lead with empathy. Talk about the importance of considering the thoughts and feelings of other kids before posting or commenting.

Talk about standing up for others

It's very difficult to be the one who stands up to a bully, both online and in real life. But if we want kindness to win, we have to empower our kids to stand up to negativity. It's important to remember that standing up to negativity doesn't have to be a huge gesture or spark a fight with a peer. Sometimes something as simple as a compliment can counteract a negative comment.

Teach your child to support peers online by using kind words and positive phrases. Help your child pinpoint negative behaviors using real examples, then discuss and practice ways to respond to those behaviors.

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Teaching online kindness isn't a one-time conversation. The sooner you discuss it, the sooner you empower your child to choose kindness. Check in often and keep the door open. Navigating adolescence is no easy task and your kids need unconditional love and support every single day.

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