Light every moment of childhood
A moment of childhood memory affects a lifetime
Being a caregiver or a teacher isn't easy. But the good news is that there are skills we can learn to improve our relationship with children and improve how we raise them.
Positive parenting and positive disciplining develop a relationship of respect, trust, empathy and communication between caregivers and children, as well as between teachers and their students. This can help children navigate the difficult situations they can encounter at school, at home, and online.
Globally, children experience violence in many places. They might experience violent discipline at home, they might be bullied at school, or they could be exposed to a range of risks online, including cyberbullying, exposure to inappropriate content, or privacy breaches.
Help is available: real-world tips and other resources based on the best evidence and international standards. It might not happen overnight, but by making some changes, parents and teachers can give all children a childhood that will benefit them for a lifetime. Every child has a right to protection.
See, and hear what parents, caregivers and teachers say …
We took a group of participants on a journey to explore the different settings children experience – the home, school, and the digital world. This video captures this immersive art exhibition, that explores how we can ensure that childhoods are free from violence.
Positive Disciplining At School
What is the situation now?
- Globally, it is estimated that 246 million children and adolescents experience some form of violence in and around school every year,19 one in three children experience bullying, and a similar proportion are affected by physical violence3. Half of students aged 13–15, about 150 million, report experiencing peer-to-peer violence in and around school. More than one in three students aged 13–15 experience bullying, and about the same proportion are involved in physical fights.1
- Girls and boys are equally at risk of bullying, but girls are more likely to become victims of psychological forms of bullying4 and boys are more at risk of physical violence and threats5.
- Nearly 720 million school-aged children live in countries where corporal punishment at school is not fully prohibited.1
- Violence in schools (including bullying, sexual harassment, corporal punishment, etc.) has a clear and often lifelong impact on students’ lives and well-being. It can also impact the financial stability and economic fortunes of the communities and nations in which they live, undermining investments in health, early childhood development, and education.2
- According to data from UNESCO on the prevalence of cyberbullying in high-income countries, the proportion of children and adolescents who are affected by cyberbullying ranges from 5 per cent to 21 per cent, with girls appearing to be more likely to experience cyberbullying than boys.3
- According to a 2016 survey of a sample of 104,825 primary and secondary school students in 29 counties across China, the incidence of bullying in schools in China was 33.36 per cent, with 4.7 per cent being bullied regularly and 28.66 per cent being bullied occasionally.6
- Of all the bullying behaviours that occurred, verbal bullying accounted for 23.3 per cent, which was significantly more prevalent than social bullying, physical bullying and cyberbullying.7
- Psychological violence was more likely than other forms of violence to be normalized and accepted. For example, 27 per cent of urban and 37 per cent of rural teachers in China did not consider verbal threats as a form of violence.8
- In 2020, the detected rate of depression among adolescents in China was 24.6 per cent, with 17.2 per cent mild and 7.4 per cent severe depression. The detected rate of depression tends to increase through the grades, rising from 10 per cent in primary school, 30 per cent in junior secondary school to nearly 40 per cent in senior secondary school.9
- In 2020, China's minor netizens reached 183 million, and 94.9 per cent of this group had access to the Internet. A survey showed that in 2018, 71.11 per cent of adolescents had experienced cyberbullying. 10
- A positive school environment (positive discipline)
- All teachers should want the best for their students. But students may still disrespect their peers, not listen to teachers, refuse to do what teachers ask, and defy or ignore teachers, and it is easy to become annoyed and frustrated. When this happens, positive disciplining techniques can provide alternatives to punishment practices such as corporal punishment, yelling and commanding, and other humiliating actions. This can help teachers to apply inclusive and positive approaches to create a safe and friendly environment for learning and growth, and deal effectively with unexpected challenges and encourage students to listen and cooperate with what teachers say.
- A positive school environment reduces bullying. Bullying occurs more often in schools with poor discipline and where teachers treat students unfairly. Data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development countries show that the proportion of students who are victims of frequent bullying is 7 percentage points higher in schools with a poor disciplinary climate in class than in schools with a positive disciplinary climate. The data also show that bullying is 12 percentage points higher in schools where students report that teachers treat them unfairly.11
- In Uruguay, a decrease in school violence and bullying has been attributed to a focus on promoting a positive school climate and positive discipline, related training and support for teachers, and promotion of the participation and empowerment of students within a framework that promotes human rights in general and children’s rights in particular.9
- Public Safety Canada analysed successful anti-bullying programmes in a whole-school approach, including promoting teachers’ leadership and teacher-student bonding, establishing clear and consistent behavioural norms, adult awareness and involvement, and effective (focused and intense) supervision. 12
- Research on school bullying in China found that a positive class environment including peer relationships, teacher-student relationships, and class management could reduce the bullying behaviours.13 Moreover, a positive school environment including the physical environment, teacher-student relationships, parent-child relationships, and home-school-community cooperation contributed to the reduction of school bullying. 14
- Social Emotional Learning
- Students' exposure to bullying was negatively associated with social-emotional skills. The more bullying students experienced, the lower they score in terms of resilience, optimism and emotional control.15
- Students are less likely to engage in dangerous and violent activities when they feel treated fairly in school, when they experience a more disciplined, structured and cooperative environment, and when they experience fewer punitive measures by teachers.13
- Research has shown that interventions that are based on SEL and adopt a whole school approach have reported positive programme outcomes including improved social skills and prosocial behaviour, reduced bullying behaviour and reduced victimization. Broader outcomes include an improved student and staff climate.16
- A follow-up survey of 4,744 students in five provinces in western China showed that the higher the students' social-emotional ability, the less bullying there is in schools. Social-emotional learning ability can increase students' sense of positive belonging to the school and reduce negative belongingness, which can help reduce bullying in schools.17
- A survey of 1,617 students in China shows that Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) is an effective way to address school bullying through improving students’ social and emotional competencies.18
1 UNICEF, Protecting children from violence in school. < www.unicef.org/protection/violence-against-children-in-school>
2 P. Pereznieto.(2014) The costs and economic impact of violence against children. <https://odi.org/en/publications/the-costs-and-economic-impact-of-violence-against-children/>
3 UNESCO.(2019) Behind the numbers: ending school violence and bullying. <https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000366483>
4 Hong, J.S., Espelage, D.L. (2012). A review of research on bullying and peer victimization in school: An ecological system analysis. Aggress. Violent Behavior, 17, 311–322.
5 PREVNet. (2019) Gender Differences in Bullying Factsheet. <www.prevnet.ca/sites/prevnet.ca/files/fact-sheet/PREVNet-SAMHSA-Factsheet-Gender-Differences-in-Bullying.pdf>
6 姚建龙：校园暴力防治与少年司法改革[EB/OL]. <www.nwccw.gov.cn/2017-06/02/content_159703.htm>
7 中国德育. 关注 | 《中国校园欺凌调查报告》发布 语言欺凌是主要形式[EB/OL]. (2017-05-23). <https://mp.weixin.qq.com/s/pSGgcjiorXu8PsvcsPSFpQ>
8 UNESCO, UNICEF, UN Women, UNFPA. Teachers at the centre: the role and needs of Asia-Pacific teachers in addressing violence and school-related gender-based violence; Thematic brief[EB/OL]. (2022-01-01). <https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000381689>.
9 侯金芹, 陈祉妍. 2009年和2020年青少年心理健康状况的年际演变[A], 载傅小兰, 张侃, 陈雪峰, 陈祉妍主编. 心理健康蓝皮书: 中国国民心理健康发展报(2019～2020) [M]. 北京：社会科学文献出版社, 2021: 188-202.
10 共青团中央维护青少年权益部, 中国社会科学院社会学研究所, 腾讯公司. 中国青少年互联网使用及网络安全情况调研报告[EB/OL]. (2018-05-31). https://baijiahao.baidu.com/s?id=1601973878130131292&wfr=spider&for=pc>
11 UNESCO. Behind the numbers: Ending school violence and bullying[R]. Paris: UNESCO Publishing, 2019.
12 Public Safety Canada. Bullying Prevention: Nature and Extent of Bullying in Canada [EB/OL]. (2018-01-31). <www.publicsafety.gc.ca/cnt/rsrcs/pblctns/bllng-prvntn/index-en.aspx>
13 张林, 陈艳铃, 洪新伟, 赵明玉, 范航, 刘燊. (2023). 冷酷无情特质与初中生校园欺凌行为的关系: 一个有调节的中介模型[J]. 心理发展与教育, 39(2), 266-275.
14 何二林, 梁凯丽, 毛亚庆. (2021). 学校氛围对小学生校园欺凌的影响研究——基于东西部实证研究[J]. 教育学术月刊, 4, 43-48.
15 OECD. (2021). Beyond Academic Learning: First Results from the Survey of Social and Emotional Skills[R]. Paris: OECD Publishing. <https://read.oecd-ilibrary.org/education/beyond-academic-learning_92a11084-en#page1.>
16 Clarke, A.M., Morreale, S., Field, C.A., Hussein, Y., & Barry, M.M. (2015). What works in enhancing social and emotional skills development during childhood and adolescence? A review of the evidence on the effectiveness of school-based and out-of-school programmes in the UK. A report produced by the World Health Organization Collaborating Centre for Health Promotion Research, National University of Ireland Galway.
17 何二林, 叶晓梅, 潘坤坤, 毛亚庆. (2019). 小学生社会情感学习能力对校园欺凌的影响：学校归属感的调节作用[J]. 现代教育管理, 8, 99-105.
18 杜媛, 毛亚庆, 杨传利. (2018). 社会情感学习对学生欺凌行为的预防机制研究:社会情感能力的中介作用[J]. 教育科学研究, (12), 38-46.
19 Plan International. A girl’s right to learn without fear (2013) https://plan-international.org/uploads/2022/01/plan_gbv_eng_execsummary.pdf
How to solve the issue: a scenario-based Q&A
- What can teachers do to create a safe classroom environment? 1 2
- Build relationships of trust, express your concern for students when they are showing signs of worry or unhappiness, listen, and ask questions instead of making direct judgements. Share life stories and feelings with students in an appropriate manner.
- Be mindful of your own and your students’ emotions. Be a role model for students, and teach them appropriate ways of managing emotions and feelings to address conflicts and contradictions.
- Raise students' awareness of anti-bullying, help them be aware of the wrongfulness and consequences of bullying through class activities such as class meetings on anti-bullying and guiding students to design and produce anti-bullying posters.
- Make it clear to students that if they experience, witness or hear about bullying, it is imperative that they inform their teachers or adults they trust. Make students aware that reporting bullying is the most effective and correct action.
- Discuss with students the safe and credible ways to report bullying, such as using a ‘messenger box for teachers’ and setting up school safety sentinels.
- Post classroom rules and codes of conduct in places where students can easily see them for reminders of safety and mutual monitoring.
- Engage students in the management of the class, empowering them to take responsibility in the class and ensuring that all students have opportunity to work with other students to improve the sense of cohesion and belonging in the class.
- Maintain good communication with parents. Share knowledge about school bullying through parents-teacher meetings and inform parents that if they notice children acting differently or changes in emotions, they should inform the teacher in a timely manner.
- How can teachers identify hidden bullying in the class? 3 4
- Pay attention to each student and focus on certain behaviours: Teachers need to keep an eye on each student, with extra attention to those with poor emotion regulation, excessive competitiveness, jealousy, or impulsivity.
- Pay attention to playful behaviour that may turn into serious bullying. Respond promptly with positive disciplinary measures and investigate what is happening: e.g. whether students teasing a classmate with a nickname, or playing roughly.
- Pay attention to inappropriate behaviour of students, including unwanted attention or displays of power, retaliatory behaviour, or self-loathing, and provide timely guidance.
- Pay attention to cliques in the class, whether they are passing on negative energy, and possible isolation and exclusion within the clique.
- Pay attention to discriminatory behaviours. Pay extra attention to students in a disadvantaged situation in the class due to their physical conditions, family backgrounds or academic performance, and intervene promptly if they are isolated or excluded.
- How should teachers help victims of school bullying? 5 6 7
- At the scene of the bullying, it is important to reassure the victim in a kind and gentle manner so that they feel supported. Avoid communicating with exaggerated expressions that may cause emotional distress or embarrassment.
- After the victim calms down, the teacher can offer a private conversation with the victims, listen with respect and empathy, and ask about her or his worries, concerns and needs to restore confidence.
- It is important that the victim is informed of how they can respond to bullying and report to adults if they experience it again.
- Upon understanding the whole story, the teacher should pay attention to the development of the case, stay in contact with parents and take action to ensure that the victim does not suffer further bullying.
- Help the victim gain support from peers and create opportunities for the victim to participate in activities in and out of school, which will help to raise their self-confidence and foster peer friendships.
- How should teachers deal with the perpetrators of school bullying (the bully)? 8
- At the scene of bullying, the teacher needs to keep calm, give clear and brief verbal instructions to stop the bullying immediately, and make it clear to the bully that he or she is breaking the school rules.
- After talking to the victim, the teacher should talk with the bully in private. Remain objective and calm, and avoid direct labelling. Use appropriate approaches to help the student control their behaviour and emotions based on a good understanding of her or his thoughts and underlying reasons.
- Apply proper disciplinary measures on the perpetrator according to the level of violence, focusing on correcting the student's behaviour rather than humiliation. Inform the student and parents before making decisions related to the student's rights, listen to their opinions and adapt as appropriate.
- The teacher should not engage parents in action without knowing their attitudes and dispositions. Once the parents' attitudes are clear, communication with the bully's parents can take place through home visits and follow-up visits, and they can guide the bully to take initiative in correcting the behaviour.
- Teachers need to pay close attention to the bully and his or her words and actions with peers to ensure that he or she does not retaliate against the victim for reporting the case.
- How should teachers communicate with bystanders? 9
- What should they do:
- Thank the classmates who helped or tried to help the victim, give specific comments on their action of support (and encourage them even if their help didn’t work).
- Talk to bystanders who did not take any action to stop the bullying in a calm, objective and empathetic tone, so that they know you are aware of their inaction, and to prompt reflection.
- Take this opportunity to turn the bullying incident into a learning process by organising activities such as class meetings, encourage bystanders to think in the shoes of the victims and understand their feelings. Teach students to seek help from teachers or other trusted adults when it is safe to do so.
- What should they not do:
- Do not blame or condemn bystanders who did not offer help. Prevent them from blaming themselves or being defensive, which might deter them from taking action when witnessing bullying in the future.
- Do not ask bystanders to describe the incident or to explain their behaviour, which is also unsafe for them and may lead to retaliation. They may also be defensive and not give an objective statement of the facts, which will not help to resolve the problem.
- What role can teachers play in preventing and responding to cyberbullying in schools? 10 11
- Keep a close watch on students' online behaviour, be sensitive and attentive to young people’s online culture to better understand students' behaviour patterns and provide guidance.
- Enhance students’ digital literacy, their awareness and their ability to use the Internet in a scientific, civil, safe, and rational manner. Reduce students' inappropriate online behaviour.
- Formulate class rules on online safety to clearly inform students of the harm of cyberbullying and its legal consequences, so that students can monitor and remind each other.
- Strengthen cooperation and communication with parents, stay in regular contact with parents on students' progress in learning and life through the telephone, WeChat or other channels. Remind parents to pay attention to students' inappropriate behaviours at home, to support their children’s online literacy education, and to act as role models.
- Report confirmed cyberbullying incidents to school.
- To prevent the spread of cyberbullying in the class, request the perpetrator or relevant agencies to immediately delete the bullying messages and protect the privacy of students involved.
- Talk separately with the victim(s), the person(s) who published and disseminated bullying messages, and get a full picture of the incident. Apply appropriate disciplinary measures to those who published and disseminated the messages, and provide counseling to the victims.
- Notify parents of the students involved when the incident is confirmed, let them know the underlying causes, and request their cooperation with the school in follow-up education and guidance.
- How should teachers deal with incidents of violence against minors other than school bullying? 12 13
- Conflicts that have not escalated into bullying: Talk separately with both parties involved and teach them about negotiation skills and empathy for dealing with conflict. Appropriate disciplinary measures such as a curfew or a face-to-face apology could be applied if necessary.
- Violence outside of school: If teachers find that students have obvious emotional changes, physical injuries, or other indicators, they should speak to the affected child. Teachers should learn about the specific situation through various channels while paying attention to protect the student’s privacy. If there is an episode of bullying or other form of violence, they should promptly notify parents of the students when it has been confirmed that a family member wasn’t involved in the violence，report to school and refer to professionals to provide psychological support. If appropriate, teachers should immediately report to the public security and education departments, and cooperate with relevant departments in accordance with the law.
- Violence against children in home setting: Teachers should promptly report to public security, civil administration and education departments if teachers find that students have suffered or are suspected to have suffered from harms such as domestic violence, abuse, abandonment, lack of parental care through being left unattended for a long period unattended, or if the student is missing. Teachers could speak to the student directly and to the family if there are no risks of doing so for the student, and explain to the student the actions the relevant departments will take.
- Unsafe online behaviour: Teachers should immediately stop the inappropriate online behaviour, demonstrate the right attitude and standpoint. Listen to the students and ask questions to understand their thoughts about the inappropriate information or risky behaviour, provide clarifications, and help improve their awareness of self-protection. Once an online platform is found disseminating inappropriate information, teachers should file a report to the relevant administrative departments.
1 国际计划. 预防校园欺凌（教师篇）｜ 教师在预防和发现校园欺凌中的作用[EB/OL]. (2022-08-05). https://mp.weixin.qq.com/s/55jBtqnxfmqXfNmz8DgJ7A.
2 教育部教师工作司, 联合国儿童基金会. 社会情感学习教师指导手册[R]. 2020.
3 教育部教师工作司, 联合国儿童基金会. 社会情感学习教师指导手册[R]. 2020.
4 教育部. 未成年人学校保护规定[EB/OL].（2021-06-01）. http://www.moe.gov.cn/srcsite/A02/s5911/moe_621/202106/t20210601_534640.html
5 国际计划. 预防校园欺凌（教师篇）｜ 处理校园欺凌要做到哪几步？[EB/OL]. (2022-09-01). https://mp.weixin.qq.com/s/Lv4jVX0Tnd7OYTvSARVFug.
6 WHO, UNESCO, UNICEF. School-based Violence Prevention: A practical handbook[R]. Section 5, 2019. https://www.unicef.org/media/58081/file/UNICEF-WHO-UNESCO-handbook-school-based-violence.pdf.
7 中国反校园欺凌网. 对受欺凌者的干预[EB/OL]. [2022-10-11]. http://www.antibul.sdnu.edu.cn/info/1025/1063.htm.
8 国际计划. 预防校园欺凌（教师篇）｜ 处理校园欺凌要做到哪几步？[EB/OL]. (2022-09-01). https://mp.weixin.qq.com/s/Lv4jVX0Tnd7OYTvSARVFug.
11《班主任》.问题解决|班主任如何应对班级网络欺凌事件？[EB/OL]. (2021-12-19). https://zhuanlan.zhihu.com/p/447175248.
12 教育部. 未成年人学校保护规定[EB/OL].（2021-06-01）. http://www.moe.gov.cn/srcsite/A02/s5911/moe_621/202106/t20210601_534640.html
13 UNESCO Bangkok. Positive discipline in the inclusive, learning-friendly classroom: a guide for teachers and teacher educators[R]. 2006.
- How can schools create a positive and safe atmosphere? 1 2 3
- School management:
- Implement the law and put in place targeted mechanisms for the prevention and control of student bullying, sexual assault, and harassment, as well as appropriate measures to tackle violence and harassment against students, so that they feel protected at school.
- Establish an anti-bullying task force in school composed of vice principals, legal consultants, relevant experts, parents and student representatives, to lead and coordinate efforts of prevention of bullying, communication and advocacy, case identification, corrective measures, and provision of assistance.
- Schools should conduct periodic surveys on bullying for all students, to assess bullying in the school.
- Provide mental health education for students, and establish a case management system for screening, intervention, and referral for students' mental health problems. Set up a psychological counselling room to provide services for students by qualified full-time or part-time counsellors (teachers).
- Put in place a faculty code of conduct, dormitory safety management regulations, regulations on video surveillance, etc. and regulate the behaviours of faculty and students on campus.
- Physical environment:
- Strengthen monitoring efforts in areas and time slots that are easily neglected (e.g. corridors and playground corners during recess and lunch time). Provide students with convenient, accessible, safe and reliable reporting channels, including hotlines, online reporting platforms, and campus reporting sites.
- Put up posters and psychological support centres on campus to provide approaches and resources for students to seek help when they experience school violence.
- Strengthen the management of reading materials and the cultural environment. Prohibit reading materials, pictures, and audiovisual products that contain pornographic, violent, or superstitious content.
- Schools should install online protection software for minors or employ other technical measures to prevent students from accessing information not suitable for minors.
- Prioritize improving students' social and emotional competences, interpersonal relationships, and cultivating optimistic attitudes through peer support programmes and group activities in school.
- Engage students in making class rules and class management to create a supportive climate, cultivate students’ ownership and friendly relationships.
- Incorporate anti-bullying themes or activities into class activities. Raise their awareness of and resilience against bullying. More importantly, let students know the difference between ‘snitching’ and reporting bullying.
- Include the scientific, civilized, safe and rational use of the Internet in classroom teaching, educate students on network security, appropriate online behaviour and avoiding spending too much time online.
- Faculty staff:
- Schools should raise teachers' awareness of campus safety and bullying, and support personnel engaged in student protection duties to receive training on relevant laws, theories and skills. Provide training for teachers and staff on the protection of minors so that they can be prepared for emergencies.
- Schools should establish an effective communication mechanism with parents and encourage teachers to maintain regular contact with parents through home visits and parent-teacher meetings to keep abreast of students' physical and mental health conditions.
- What should schools do when bullying cases are reported? 4
- When the school receives a report of student bullying, the school should immediately carry out an investigation. For suspected bullying cases, the school should promptly report to the school bullying taskforce and notify parents of the students to involve them in the intervention. The school should not only investigate on the bullying case itself, but also the reasons why it happened and why the student perpetrated bullying.
- Assign a teacher to provide psychological first aid and have professionals provide specific psychological support for students involved.
- Where bullying is confirmed, disciplinary action should be taken against the students who committed or participated in the bullying, and appropriate disciplinary sanctions (non-violent and non-humiliating) shall be applied in serious cases, with a request for parents to strengthen discipline at home. When necessary, vice principals for rule of law and counselors may conduct discipline and education on students and their parents.
- If needed, schools should report the cases to the education and public security departments and collaborate accordingly. Schools should not conceal serious bullying behaviours such as violations of public security laws and regulations. A joint investigation mechanism should be established under the guidance of education department to identify and handle incidents of student bullying in schools.
1 教育部教师工作司, 联合国儿童基金会. 社会情感学习学校氛围指导手册[R]. 2020.
2 中国反校园欺凌网. 学校层面和班级层面的欺凌干预措施[EB/OL]. [2022-10-11]. http://www.antibul.sdnu.edu.cn/info/1025/1066.htm.
3 教育部. 未成年人学校保护规定[EB/OL]. （2021-06-01）. http://www.moe.gov.cn/srcsite/A02/s5911/moe_621/202106/t20210601_534640.html
4 教育部. 未成年人学校保护规定[EB/OL]. （2021-06-01）. http://www.moe.gov.cn/srcsite/A02/s5911/moe_621/202106/t20210601_534640.html
How can schools engage parents in preventing school violence? 1 2
- Schools should provide anti-school bullying training for parents through parent-teacher meetings and parent chatgroups for them to understand bullying and anti-bullying, parents’ responsibilities as well as the school's anti-bullying protocols, the reporting procedures and disciplinary rules and actions.
- Schools should invite parent representatives to join the anti-bullying committee (and ensure the appropriate ratio of male and female parent representatives and the ratio of boys and girls they represent).
- In its bully response plans and procedures, the school anti-bullying committee should provide clear guidance on when and by whom parents should be contacted if bullying occurs.
- Schools can provide parents with opportunities to understand their children's school life and school environment, such as school open days, and homework assignments that parents and children complete together.
- Harmful parenting styles may increase the risk of violence among children. Schools can provide parents with training on positive parenting and parent-child communication skills to improve parenting methods.
1 国际计划. 预防校园欺凌｜学校如何与社区合作，共同防治欺凌？[EB/OL]. (2022-09-21). https://mp.weixin.qq.com/s/tzjwYGFTtx3fg_4VRhzinA.
2 WHO, UNESCO, UNICEF. School-based Violence Prevention: A practical handbook[R]. Section 7, 2019. https://www.unicef.org/media/58081/file/UNICEF-WHO-UNESCO-handbook-school-based-violence.pdf.
Navigating the online world safely
It is estimated that globally, one in three Internet users in the world today is below the age of 18.1 More than 175,000 children go online for the first time every day, the equivalent of a new young netizen every half second.2 They absorb knowledge and information, build friendships and develop social skills, foster creativity and participation, and make connections through the Internet.
However, in addition to tremendous opportunities, the digital world brings the possibility of online violence and other risks, including cyberbullying, online sexual abuse and exploitation, harmful content, and threats to privacy.
1. Online violence against children and online risks
Children face different forms of online violence: they can be exposed to violent or explicit content, affected by cyberbullying or other forms of peer-to-peer violence. Their privacy can be violated, or their health can be compromised by excessive screen time.3
Violence against children online often extends into the ‘real’ world, and vice versa. For example, sexual abuse perpetrators befriend children online and convince them to meet in person, and bullying in school might be continued through social media.
Cyberbullying is bullying with the use of digital technologies. It can take place on social media, messaging platforms, gaming platforms and mobile phones. It is repeated behaviour aimed at scaring, angering or shaming those who are targeted. Examples include spreading lies about or posting embarrassing photos or videos of someone on social media, and sending hurtful, abusive or threatening messages.4
Online grooming is adults befriending children to take advantage of them for sexual abuse or other forms of abuse.5 Perpetrators often start by building a relationship with a child to find out about their needs and vulnerabilities. Once they have developed trust, the abuse forms slowly through manipulation and demands. This relationship can also escalate into physical harm.
Online grooming is often considered as part of online child sexual exploitation and abuse, which includes, but is not limited to the production, possession and distribution of child sex abuse materials, which includes images and videos; online grooming of potential child victims with the intention of sexual exploitation such as manipulating or coercing a child into performing sexual acts online; and livestreaming of child sexual exploitation and abuse.6
Besides online violence, children might also experience online risks such as:
Online privacy breaches
An online privacy breach means a person’s individually identifiable information – such as their name, home address, contact information, browsing history, online shopping history, personal image or video – is made public, or transferred to a third party without consent. A breach of this kind of information violates children's right to privacy, and it can lead to potential harm like online scams, harassment, and cyberbullying.
Excessive screen time
The impact on children of screen-use – particularly overuse – has been an escalating concern for parents. Restricting screentime remains a controversial solution,7 but prolonged screentime causes risks that cannot be ignored, for example, a lack of physical and outdoor activity, and the risk of developing visual impairments such as myopia.
2. The current situation
As children's digital experiences increase, so do the risks they face online. According to a poll released by UNICEF in 2019, in which 170,000 children and young people aged 13-24 years old participated, one in three young people in 30 countries said they have been a victim of cyberbullying.8
Online grooming, livestreaming of child sexual abuse, and the distribution of child sexual abuse content have all increased significantly. A decade ago, under one million files containing child abuse material were reported. In 2019, that number climbed to 70 million, a nearly 50 per cent increase over 2018 figures. There are victims in all age groups, but they are increasingly younger.9
Children with disabilities face similar risks online as children without disabilities, but they can also face specific risks related to their disabilities. They are 12 per cent more likely to have experienced cyberbullying than children without disability.10
Data from some countries suggest that teenage girls are three times more likely to be cyberbullied than boys through online rumour spreading and receiving unsolicited explicit images.11
In China, the number of underage netizens (6-18 years old) reached 183 million in 2020, according to the CNNIC and the Chinese Communist Youth League Central Committee.12
Among these young netizens, 19.5 per cent of minors have been mocked or abused online, 7.2 per cent said they or their relatives or friends have been harassed online, and 4.9 per cent said their personal information had been disclosed online without permission. Further, 34.5 per cent of underage netizens have encountered inappropriate information online, such as pornography and violence.
3. The consequences of online violence against children
Online violence, along with online risks, can cause profound harm because information can reach a wide audience within a short time. Moreover, related digital content is available 24/7 and can resurface at any time, which makes it harder for the victim to get closure over an incident. It can invade the victim’s privacy even in otherwise safe places such as the home. And the feeling of being laughed at, being powerless, or being shamed can prevent children from speaking up, seeking help or trying to deal with the violence, causing a vicious cycle.
It is difficult to separate the consequences of online and offline violence because they often overlap and often the two of the can occur at the same time. However, evidence shows that online violence can cause severe and long-lasting harm,13 such as mental health effects (anxiety, depression, psychological trauma, and self-harm), health-risk behaviour (risky sexual behaviour, substance abuse) and physical health effects (problems with weight gain and obesity, problems during pregnancy and childbirth, and health problems later in life, such as heart disease and diabetes).
The consequences go beyond health. Children who have been victimized online or in the physical world are more likely to struggle in school, break rules and laws, and experience more violence from other adults or peers in their life.14
4. What parents can do
Children using the Internet does bring risks, but it is important to keep in mind that children are not always harmed by going online. Children are better protected when they understand the risks, and if they can prevent potential harm from happening.
Children need support, rather than punishment. Instead of banning your child from using the Internet or getting anxious about this problem, try positive parenting and teach them healthy behaviours. Take a different approach from now on and start with "respecting, understanding, communicating, trusting and modelling".
Respect - value your child's ideas and choices
Invite your child to participate together in the development of family plans and rules for using digital products. Guide them to focus not only on quantity (time and frequency) but also on the quality of screen time – encourage diverse activities, with active participation rather than just passive consumption.
Respect your child's decisions on digital activities while ensuring their safety and health. Let your child learn to be responsible for her or his own choices. Once the family plans and rules are set, family members should work together to follow them.
Understand - know your child and their development
Parents should first familiarize themselves with the online platforms or applications their children are using, and patiently guide them to recognize and understand potential risks, and then learn how to prevent and respond to them.
Parents can teach children good habits to prevent risks, such as using complex passwords, account privacy settings, and functions to blacklist, delete and report abuse. Parents can also teach children to use technology for self-management, such as using applications that monitor screen time or track their online activities, to encourage reflection on their use of technology.
Communicate - talk with, not at, your child
Take the initiative to learn what your child is doing online and try the products and services that your child is using or that are popular among their peers. Ask if you can get involved in their online activities. When you show your curiosity and openness, children will be more likely to connect with you, and more willing to talk with you.
You can chat with them about what they and their peers are following and talking about online, how to identify misleading information, whether ‘cyber friends’ are reliable or not, and share your own online experiences. Communication helps parents to better understand their children, the motivations behind their online activity and their true opinions.
Trust - believe that your child wants to do well, and can do well
Do not secretly check your child's online activity. If you plan to use features such as parental controls or access restriction, make sure to tell your child in advance and explain why you are using them, and reach an agreement about using it.
Create a supportive atmosphere and make sure your child knows how and where to seek help if they have an uncomfortable experience online. If your child does approach you with a problem, stay calm when your child is talking and don't jump to conclusions, criticize your child, or threaten to confiscate their devices. Stay on your child's side, help them to solve the problem together and learn from the experience.
Model - show the way by acting as a role model
Before asking children to behave in a certain way, parents should set a good example by modelling that behaviour.
Parents' online activity is a direct reference for children. So, parents should use the Internet in a healthy, friendly, proactive and creative way. By showing them how to check the weather forecast, or search for receipts and get directions from maps, parents can help their children understand that a computer or mobile phone is not just a toy. Parents can show their children that the Internet can be used for more than just fun, and that digital technology is a powerful tool for creativity that we can do so many meaningful things with.
Parents should also demonstrate safety precautions, for example, consent should be granted before a picture of a family member is posted on social media. What’s visible in a photo should be considered, and photos containing private information such as names, door numbers or school names should be avoided.
Changing habits doesn't happen overnight. But if you are willing to start making changes, we believe that you will be able to use positive parenting to keep your child safe online, while allowing them to reap the benefits of the digital world, and building a relationship founded on trust. UNICEF is with you on this journey of change. For more information on positive parenting, please visit: www.unicef.org/parenting.
12 2020年全国未成年人互联网使用情况研究报告 ANNUAL REPORT ON THE INTERNET USE BY MINORS IN CHINA (2020), <english.news.cn/20220909/f4ea8b6722d84444a5b5da50b398b967/c.html>
1. What is cyberbullying and how can I help my child prevent it?
Cyberbullying is bullying with the use of digital technologies. It is repeated behaviour, aimed at scaring, angering, or shaming those who are targeted. Examples include spreading lies about or posting embarrassing photos of someone on social media; sending hurtful messages or threats via messaging platforms; impersonating someone and sending mean messages to others on their behalf.
Cyberbullying can occur on any online platform where children engage in interactions and can happen at any time. The harm it causes is far-reaching because it can spread quickly and widely and leave a permanent mark on the Internet.
Parents can discuss with their children the difference between a friendly joke and bullying. If they feel hurt or think others are laughing at them instead of with them, then the joke has gone too far. It does not matter what this behaviour is called, if the child feels uncomfortable and the behaviour does not stop, then the child does not have to tolerate it; it is necessary to seek help.
Parents can help protect their children from cyberbullying by teaching them how to safeguard their personal information, such as adjusting privacy settings, and using tools such as block, delete and report, as well as being cautious with their online speech and behaviour since it is difficult to completely delete anything posted online.
Parents should also establish positive relationships with their children and model non-violent behaviour, because children who are regularly subjected to violence may not know how to stand up for themselves or seek help when bullied.
Additionally, parents should be aware of their children's emotions and behaviour, especially after using the internet, and look out for any signs of bullying, such as low mood, anxiety, or excessive vigilance.
Lastly, parents can also discuss various incidents of cyberbullying with their children, sharing your perspectives and modeling how you would respond if you faced something like this.
Find out more:
2. What can I do if my child is being cyberbullied?
- Express your concern for your child. Do not downplay the situation or blame the child for being weak; this will only make the child feel more powerless. Then, encourage your child to talk about what happened, listen without preconceptions, and do not jump to conclusions, such as blaming your child for initiating the conflict.
- Discuss with your child whether this is bullying. Make it clear to your child that if this has been going on repeatedly and she or he feels hurt or feels bad about it, then it is bullying. Tell them clearly that it is not their fault if they are being bullied, and that you will always stand by them and support them.
- Discuss different solutions with your child, encourage them and support them to make their own choices. Whether they want to solve the problem independently or need assistance, support them in their decision. Children who are bullied often experience a great sense of helplessness, allowing them to make their own decisions can help them regain some sense of control.
- Some practical tips: Suggest they ask the perpetrator to stop, leave the chat or quit the game, block or delete the bully, and then report it. Be careful not to teach your child to resist or retaliate against the bully with violence. If the bully is a peer of the child at school or in the community, parents should discuss solutions with school/community staff and the parents of the bully, if necessary.
In addition, parents can ask the social media platform to remove the relevant information, or report it to China Center for Reporting Illegal and Inappropriate Internet Information (hotline 12377, www.12377.cn). If the content of cyberbullying involves illegal and criminal acts, such as physical threats, extortion, sexual assault, etc., parents should report the matter to the police for assistance.
3. What can I do if my child is bullying others online?
- Don't overreact or deny or ignore it. Discuss the issue with the child once they have calmed down. Take some time to find out what happened, what caused the emotional outburst, and whether there are positive alternatives, such as getting offline and taking a pause.
- Teach your child to put themselves in others' shoes and cultivate empathy through role-playing or watching interviews or videos about online violence together. They can think about what they could do to better accommodate the feelings of others, such as thinking "Will this hurt other people's feelings?" and “Is this true?” before making comments.
- Be role model. Parents should set an example for their children in daily life by modeling appropriate communication and interaction: respecting children and other family members, not yelling, not threatening, or verbally abusing children, not blaming each other, or using verbal violence, allowing children to share their different opinions, and actively solving problems through non-violent means.
Find out more:
Video: Think before you send (Chinese)
4. What is online grooming and how do I discuss it with my children?
Online grooming is adults befriending children to take advantage of them for sexual abuse or other forms of abuse. Grooming takes place over time and a perpetrator often starts by building a relationship with a young person to find out about their needs and vulnerabilities. Once they’ve developed trust, the abuse forms slowly through manipulation and demands. This relationship is also often made a secret and can escalate into physical harm.1
Parents can discuss with their children what online grooming is and the potential risks and dangers of sharing personal or sensitive information on the Internet. For example, sharing intimate photos can have serious consequences, such as harassment, blackmail, or even legal issues since we have little control over who sees them or how they are used. Even if we only share photos with people we know and trust, they could still be shared with others without our knowledge or consent. Tell your children to be wary of collecting photos under the guise of recruiting "internet influencer", or " idol trainee".
It is also important to teach your child about rejection.
When faced with persuasion from sexual predators, children may be pressured to do or say things against their will to save face or to please the person they are talking to. So, parents can teach their children how to express rejection in general.
For example, when your child feels their safety is threatened or certain behaviours make them feel uncomfortable, tell them to decisively say no and report it to a parent or teacher. Tell them that if a relationship requires you to satisfy the other person against your will, it must be an unhealthy relationship.
5. What can I do if my child sends intimate photos to strangers online?
- Don't blame or shame your child. It's important to approach the situation in a non-judgmental way, as your child may be feeling embarrassed or ashamed. Avoid immediately confiscating your child's cell phone or computer to cut them off from the outside world, because this will only undermine their trust in you, and cause them to close themselves off.
- Pay attention to the child's state, especially emotional changes, and provide support. If necessary, you can seek help from professional counseling services. Encourage your child to expand his or her circle of friends and participate in offline activities that will make them feel happy.
- Stay calm and listen to your child. Tell them it is correct to seek help from adults and thank them for their trust and reassure that you will help them deal with the situation together.
- Work with your child to preserve evidence and contact the police. Together take screenshots or record the exchange, taking care to keep important information. Parents should also immediately contact the online platform, mobile operator or Internet regulator to request the removal of the relevant content.
6. What can I do if my child won’t stop playing with their cell phone?
- Manage the time spent on the Internet according to the child's age. For preschoolers, parents should strictly manage their screen time. As recommended by the World Health Organization, screen time is not recommended for children under 1 year old, and for children 2-4 years old, screen time should not exceed 1 hour per day and less is better.2 For older children, parents can work with their children to develop rules and plans for the use of digital devices, and the whole family can participate.
- In addition to persuading children to put down their phones, parents should set an example, especially when they are with their children, by putting down their phones. During a family meal, put all mobile devices aside and talk with your child about your day, and show your child that we don’t have to be dependent on or addicted to our devices.
- Consider undertaking alternative activities with your child, especially sports and outdoor activities that you can participate in with your child. Sometimes children may not know how to organize their time and are not quite sure what they can do when they are asked to put down their phones, which requires parents to make suggestions or accompany their children. Guide children to discover fun beyond the virtual world. You can encourage your child to spend time with friends and family, and to engage in activities that require them to be physically and socially active, so that they can develop new skills and interests.
Find out more:
7. What can I do if my child starts imitating violent videos?
- Understand the logic behind children's behaviour.
Children often have shorter attention spans and may be more easily engaged by visual stimuli that is constantly changing, such as videos with fast-changing, fresh images. And their behaviour is often learned from observation and imitation, especially for younger children who cannot always distinguish fact from fantasy. So, prolonged exposure to violent video content may lead children to mistakenly believe that violence is a normal or appropriate interpersonal communication and imitate it in their own daily lives, either consciously or unconsciously.
- Watch together and learn through discussion.
Parents can help select appropriate content for children and watch it together with them. On the other hand, if there is unexpected violence on a screen, parents do not need to be nervous. They can discuss with their children the difference between imagination and reality, whether such behaviour is appropriate, and whether there are other non-violent ways to solve the problem. Talk to them about the consequences of violent behavior and why it is not acceptable in real life. You can also guide your child to imagine how the person being hurt feels, to develop their empathy.
- Be a role-model.
Parents should provide an example in ordinary life, by not using violent discipline methods such as scolding or hitting to deal with their children's problems, expressing emotions in a healthy way, as well as using non-violent means to deal with conflicts with other people.
8. What can I do if my child submitted personal information in exchange for free gifts?
- Respond quickly and solve the problem together.
If anyone’s personal information has been leaked, or the child has become a victim of fraud, parents should immediately help their children keep evidence and contact the police. Parents should also immediately contact the online platform, mobile operator or Internet regulator to request the deletion of relevant private information.
- Learn from mistakes.
Parents can also turn this into an important lesson about online safety, discuss instead of scolding or punishing, to help their children realize the importance of protecting personal information. Pay extra attention to online advertisements and keep in mind that there is no such thing as a ‘free lunch’. Help them be prepared when facing similar situations in the future, such as think twice before sharing personal information – including names, addresses, schools, personal photos, videos, and other contact information.
- Parents should set an example by sharing information carefully.
Parents should also take care to protect their own personal information and that of their family members, for example, by refraining from sharing their children’s photos on social media platforms, especially photos revealing their names, schools, home addresses and other background information. If you want to share, you should adjust the settings to ensure that only friends and family can see these photos.
9. How can I help protect my child's online privacy?
- Help your child to understand the privacy settings and tools provided by social media and other online platforms. This can include showing them how to adjust the settings to ensure that only a select group of people (e.g. friends who also know each other offline, or classmates from the same school) can see the profile and posts, in order to avoid exposing too much personal information. Tell them how to block or report users who are behaving inappropriately.
- Teach your child to set strong and unique passwords that are not easily guessed, avoid simple passwords consisting of names or dates of birth and keep passwords private. And it is better to set different passwords for different websites instead of just using the same password, and if possible, change the password regularly. Enable two-factor authentication whenever possible, as this adds an extra layer of security to your accounts.
- Tell your child to be cautious about sharing personal information - only share information that is necessary or appropriate. This includes avoiding sharing sensitive information including full names, birthdays, passwords, addresses, cell phone numbers, bank account information, school information, etc. Be cautious about using features such as "share location" or "check-in".
10. What can I do if my child is exposed to inappropriate online content?
- Don't be nervous or evasive, and don't get angry. Use this educational moment to talk to them about the content - what they saw and how it made them feel, why such content exists on the Internet, and what can be done if the child does not want to see it. If the time is right, you can also take the opportunity to provide correct and scientific sex education, preventing them from being misled by misinformation. In addition, parents can work with their children to report inappropriate information that appears on websites, to stop the further spread of such information.
- Select appropriate content. Parents can work with their children to find websites or applications specifically for children, or age-appropriate content that matches their interests. Ratings, comments, and recommendations can be useful resources when making choices.
- Consider using parental controls or filtering function to monitor your child's online activity and protect them from inappropriate content. Make sure to communicate with their children in advance so that they understand the reason for doing so - for example to protect them from harmful or inappropriate online content. Reassure your child that you trust them and it is not a punishment, but rather a tool to help keep them safe and healthy.
Also, tell your child to quit the website or get offline immediately if the content makes them feel uncomfortable, and that they can always trust and turn to their parents when it happens.
11. There are so many dangers on the Internet, why don't we just stop our children from using it?
Children's use of the Internet does pose risks, but parents should remember that risk does not necessarily mean harm. If children are aware of the risks and can prevent potential harm, they can stay safe online.
The internet has become an integral part of our daily lives, and it provides numerous benefits and opportunities for learning, communication, participating, and personal growth. Instead of trying to banning children from using the internet, it is better to provide them with the knowledge and skills they need to protect themselves, and educate them about how to use it safely and responsibly.
This involves teaching them about online violence and online risks such as cyberbullying, online grooming, online privacy breaches, misinformation, and excessive screen time. They can discuss these risks openly and honestly with their children and think together about how to respond.
Learn with your child how to protect yourselves against risks through technical means, such as permission settings, data disclosure settings, hacking protection, blocking and reporting. The more they know about the risks, the more they can prepare yourselves and the more they can enjoy and benefit from the Internet.
Positive parenting at home
1. What is violent discipline?
Violent discipline is a form of violence against children, that includes physical punishment (for example, shaking, hitting or slapping a child) or psychological aggression (for example, shouting, yelling or screaming at a child, or calling a child offensive names, or otherwise verbally abusing a child).1
2. What is positive parenting?
Unlike violent discipline, positive parenting means raising a child with a positive, nonviolent approach that respects the child’s rights and takes action towards the development of her or his potential. This means caregivers provide guidance with affection, empathy and respect, as well as rules and limits that provide long-term solutions. Positive parenting helps to build positive parent-child relationships and provides a safe environment in which children can actively explore, learn, and thrive.
3. The state of violent discipline
Globally, three quarters of children aged 2 to 4 years – close to 300 million – are regularly subjected to violent discipline (physical punishment and/or psychological aggression) by their parents or other caregivers at home, and around 6 in 10 (250 million) are subjected to physical punishment.2 Around 6 in 10 one-year-olds in 30 countries with available data are subjected to violent discipline on a regular basis. Nearly a quarter of one-year-olds are physically shaken as punishment and nearly 1 in 10 are hit or slapped on the face, head or ears.3 Worldwide, around 1.1 billion caregivers, or slightly more than 1 in 4, admit to believing in the necessity of physical punishment as a form of discipline.4
Girls and boys of all ages experience violence discipline at about the same rates. Children with disabilities are more likely to be physically punished than those without disabilities.5
Violence against children is equally widespread in China. In 2015, a UNICEF-supported meta-analysis of 68 studies showed that the prevalence of physical abuse was 26.6 per cent, emotional abuse was 19.6 per cent, sexual abuse was 8.7 per cent, and neglect was 26.0 per cent among children aged 0-17 years in China.6
4. The lifelong consequences of violent discipline for children
Research has shown that violence in childhood is likely to harm a child’s long-term physical and mental health. Harms include permanent physical injuries and disabilities, sexually transmitted infections, anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, suicidal thoughts, unplanned pregnancy, and an inability to maintain stable relations and feel empathy for others. Violence impairs children’s capacities to learn and attend school, constraining children’s ability to reach their full potential. Violence can sometimes result in the child’s death.7
If children experience violent discipline from caregivers, they may develop a biased understanding of violence as a normal way of interacting with others, and they may internalize that behaviour.8
5. Impact of positive parenting
Positive parenting creates a strong and deep relationship between parents and a child based on mutual respect,9 provides a safe environment of support and care for children, helps reduce maltreatment and violence, creating a healthier life and a better future for children.10
Research shows that positive parenting contributes to better functioning in the brain regions associated with emotions and cognition during the teen years.11 It also nurtures children's self-esteem, creativity, belief in the future and ability to get along with others. In the long run, it helps children to develop better relationships, mental health, and well-being during adulthood.12
6. What parents can do: Replace violent discipline with positive parenting
Perhaps you want the best for your child, but you feel like the only way of keeping your child in line, and making progress, is through violent discipline. Or maybe sometimes your emotions can get the better of you. But as caregivers, we all have a responsibility to not let violence be a part of children’s development.
The good news is that there are other options. Instead of running the risk of having a long-term negative impact on your child through violent discipline, instead of feeling guilty about hitting your child because you feel you have no other choice, you can take action now and replace violent discipline with positive parenting.
Parenting is a skill that we can learn. Positive parenting is first and foremost a mindset of parenting that is based on the core concepts of ‘respect, understand, communicate, trust and model’.
- Respect - value your child's ideas and choices
When making rules or plans, invite your child to participate, and make sure that family members follow or implement them together. Respect your child's feelings. If you need to apologize or thank your child, do this in the way that you would with other adults.
- Understand - know your child and their development
Understand that children need time to grow up. Take the initiative to learn about child development, psychology, and understand the cognitive and emotional characteristics of children at different developmental stages. Communicate with your child based on these characteristics. Understand your child's frustration at not being able to do something because of her or his ability or other reasons, give comfort and work together to figure it out.
- Communicate - talk with, not at, your child
Discuss various topics in your life, abandon the idea that parents are the ‘authority’ on all topics, and create an open and safe atmosphere for communication without presumptions. Share your life and work with your child, your joys and your worries, as you would with a friend.
- Trust - believe that your child wants to do well, and can do well
Trust that your child is willing and able to do better, and that mistakes are made because they need help, not because they need punishment. Turn failure into a learning opportunity and guide your child to learn from the experience. Stay on the same side as your child and let them know that no matter what happens, you will be there to give them support.
- Model - show the way by acting as a role model
Whether it’s how to behave or speak, or manage emotions, or use the internet in a healthy way, parents need to set an example themselves before asking anything of their children. This will help make a parent’s request more persuasive – as the saying goes, actions speak louder than words.
Positive parenting is not a mysterious technique; everyone can master these methods. It helps us to build a genuine, strong and lasting bond with our children. We have developed parenting tips based on a number of common scenarios and other materials about positive parenting, so let's try making these changes together!
6 FANG Xiangming, et al., ‘The Burden of Child Maltreatment in China: A systematic review’, Bulletin of the World Health Organization, vol. 93, 2015, pp. 176–185C
8 Fry, D. (2016, November 7-9). Preventing violence against children: And how this contributes to building stronger economies [Thematic Research Paper]. The 3rd High-Level Meeting on Cooperation for Child Rights in the Asia-Pacific Region, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
11 Positive parenting predicts the development of adolescent brain structure: A longitudinal study. Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience, 8, 7-17.
12 Parental warmth and flourishing in mid-life. Social Science & Medicine, 220, 65-72.
1. What is violent discipline?
Violent discipline is a form of violence against children, that includes physical punishment (for example, shaking, hitting or slapping a child) or psychological aggression (for example, shouting, yelling or screaming at a child, or calling a child offensive names, or otherwise verbally abusing a child).1 Many parents use violent discipline not in the hope of actually hurting their children, but rather thinking they need to pay for their wrongdoing and expecting that the children will learn from the punishment so that they will not repeat it.
However, many studies have shown that violence suffered in childhood is likely to have long-term harmful effects on children. In addition to physical and psychological health problems, it can lead to high-risk behaviours (such as alcohol, drugs, smoking and unsafe sex), chronic illness, the inability to maintain stable relationships or empathise with others. Violence can harm children's ability to engage in learning and constrain them from reaching their full potential. Violence may even lead to a child's death.2
If children are subjected to violent discipline from their caregivers, they may develop a biased understanding of violence as a normal way of interacting with others and may internalise this behaviour and imitate it in their own lives.3
2. Is there a difference between a smack and beating? Can I discipline my child with mild corporal punishment?
A mild smack, or any form of physical punishment, is not a safe or acceptable way to discipline a child. It shows a lack of respect for their dignity. Research has shown that even mild forms of corporal punishment can increase the risk of more severe forms of abuse,4 and it can be difficult for parents to accurately judge the appropriate amount of force to use.
On the other hand, any form of violent discipline proves that adults have the right to harm those weaker than themselves and demonstrate a mindset of resorting to violence rather than exploring alternative positive solutions.
Besides, societies do not draw lines and try to justify any level of violence when challenging violence against women, elderly people, or any other population group. They should not do so too when it comes to children.5
3. What can I do if I am told my child is a troublemaker?
- Pause, keep calm and find out what is going on
Sometimes parents get angry when they hear a complaint about their child’s behaviour and quickly decide that their child has messed up or caused trouble and needs to be punished harshly. It is a good idea to take a pause to calm yourself down first and ask the person who complains what has happened.
- Find out the reasons behind your child's behaviour
Find time to talk to your child alone without any preconceptions and listen to what they identify as the cause of the incident. It might be a misunderstanding, and if it is not a misunderstanding, ask the child why they did it. Is it because they do not know it was inappropriate or they could not control themselves? Parents can analyse with their child why it was wrong, what the appropriate act is and how they can develop good behaviour.
- Set clear expectations and provide positive reinforcement.
Explain to your child what behaviours are acceptable and what are not. When they behave well, make sure to praise and reward them. This will help reinforce good behaviour and encourage your child to continue making positive choices.
- Pay attention to your child to reduce their insecurities
Sometimes children want to get the attention of adults, especially if their parents work away from home. In this case, parents can set aside regular time each day or each week to communicate with their children online to let them know that their parents are always caring about them, reducing their insecurities.
4. What is positive parenting?
Unlike violent discipline, positive parenting means raising a child in a positive, non-violent way, respecting their rights and developing their potential. It means that parents take a long-term view, provide guidance and make demands on the child based on their stage of development, understanding and empathy.6 It assumes that children do not mean to act badly but are simply learning.
Positive parenting helps to build positive parent-child relationships and can provide a safe environment in which children can actively explore and learn and thrive. Positive parenting also helps to reduce abuse and violence, creating a healthier life and a better future for the child.
Positive parenting, on the other hand, is not coddling, but rather the belief that children learn more through cooperation and rewards than through punishment. When children feel good, they tend to behave well, while when they feel bad, they might behave badly.
Research has shown that positive parenting helps brain areas related to emotions and cognition to function better during adolescence.7 It also develops children's self-esteem, creativity, belief in the future and the ability to get along with others. In the long run, it helps children to develop better relationships, mental health and well-being in adulthood.8
5. What can I do if my child insists on helping but ends up messing up?
- Understand your child's frustration and replace violent discipline with positive parenting. Scolding and punishing them will only make them feel worse and discourage them from trying again, while it is already upsetting and frustrating for children to fail to challenge themselves. Parents can try positive parenting instead of violent discipline and change their mindset to realise that their children intend to perform well by challenging themselves, so what they need is recognition, guidance and help, rather than denying or punishing them.
- Guide your child to learn from their mistakes or failures. When the timing is right, parents can talk to their children about why something went wrong. Tell them that it is great that they are willing to help and challenge themselves. Although they have failed temporarily, experience can be learned from mistakes.
- Be careful with safety issues. If the task is beyond the child's ability and there is a safety issue, parents can explain to them why they can't help and thank the child for being willing to help. Offer an alternative way for them to help by replacing it with tasks within their reach so that they are not demotivated and can ensure safety.
6. Does positive parenting mean that children should not be criticized at all?
Positive parenting assumes that children make mistakes because they need help and is against criticism based on sarcasm, humiliation, or even personal attacks. However, this does not mean that positive parenting allows children to do whatever they want.
It is important for parents to provide non-violent and constructive feedback and guidance to help their children learn and grow. This means focusing on the behaviour, rather than the child, and providing specific and actionable feedback that can help them improve.
For example, a child who cries a lot may be called a "crybaby" or a "coward", a slow-paced child may be described as a "procrastinator" or a "dawdler". These criticisms are like labels and create a fixed mindset in which children believe that their capacity is limited, that they are "bad", and that they are doomed to not succeed, and finally give up the idea of improving.
If we believe that every child is willing to behave well, we will have confidence in them and pay more attention to the specific reasons behind their behaviour. At the same time, when parents are willing to face up to difficulties and think about solutions together with their children, they will feel that difficulties or mistakes are not scary and that they can do better, and things will move towards a positive direction through hard work.
7. What can I do if my child talks back when being criticised?
- Describe the facts, rather than judging or labelling the child. Focus on the facts by describing the issue itself. For example, "I noticed that you got five questions wrong on your latest test because you got distracted, is that right?" sounds more accurate and less aggressive than "You are always so sloppy" or "you are just too lazy to check" and is easier for children to accept.
- Invite your child to think of a solution together. If your child agrees with this fact, the next step is to work with them to think of ways for improvement. For example, look for reasons hidden behind the carelessness, such as not reading the questions carefully enough, or making a mistake when copying, or something else. Then think about solutions respectively, such as reading the question twice or checking the calculation in reverse. Teach them that mistakes are not scary, if they learn something from mistakes.
- Focus on the moments when your child does well and reward them, even just by praising them. Next time when your child is being careful, parents can take the opportunity to encourage them specifically on their being careful and guide them to harvest experience from successes. By giving positive reinforcement, the child is more willing to consolidate good performance.
8. Why do adults habitually want to yell at children or hit them?
Many parents scold or hit children simply because they were scolded or hit when they were young. They were probably raised with a belief that "spare the rod and spoil the child" in traditional culture, so violent discipline was acceptable and common back then. However, with time, evidence has shown the negative impact that violent discipline can have in terms of children’s development.9 10
Some parents may question that "I was often beaten as a child, but I am quite normal now". However, nobody knows whether their lives would have been different if they had not been violently disciplined as children. Also, even these adults would not have found it a pleasant experience. So, if there are alternative effective ways to raise children, why not try to make a change?
Very often parents don't know what else to do other than violent discipline. They do not have the knowledge and ability to use positive, non-violent methods to teach children. Research shows that parents that use violent discipline often feel guilty, but they do not know how to stop it or do it differently.11
We should therefore promote positive parenting as an alternative to violent discipline, spread knowledge and encourage parents to explore positive parenting methods, and provide support to more families to help them build a healthier and more positive parent-child relationship.
9. What should I do if I lose my temper with my child?
- Take a break and apologize sincerely to your child.
Be honest with your child and explain that you need a few minutes to work through your emotions. Leave your child in a safe place for a few minutes, take a deep breath to calm down. Then return to your child when you are calmer and give them a hug, or a remote hi-five through the screen if you are far away. Once again, apologise and explain that you lost your temper because you were not in control of your emotions. Let them know that you are sorry for the way you spoke or acted and that you will try to do better in the future.
- Discuss your behaviour and your feelings with your child
It is a good opportunity for children to learn about emotion management if parents can share their feelings with them. Explain honestly how you are feeling, such as irritable, worried, angry, nervous, etc., and how you are feeling physically and emotionally at the time. This can be a good start for children to learn about emotion management, as identifying and verbalising emotions is the first and very important step in learning to manage emotions.
- Ask for help if necessary
Parents can reflect on their behaviour and find out what triggers the outbursts - is it physical discomfort, work stress, time pressure, or something else? Are there other ways to relieve stress? Seek advice and support from outside, such as talking to a friend, doing exercise, drawing and listening to music, or going out for a walk.
10. Can I hit my child if he or she is running into the street since it's too dangerous?
- Be a responsible guardian and ensure children's safety. Stopping parents from hitting a child does not mean stopping them from protecting the child. Parents should accompany their children across the road and take them away immediately if they are rushing into the street or playing in the middle of the road.
- Use guidance, not violence. Children are not born to cross the road. Even if they have followed adults across the road many times, they may not know how to do it safely. Hitting a child does not help them learn how to act safely or how to respond to danger, nor does the child make the connection between being exposed to violence and avoiding danger.
Parents can use a different approach and first ask children to observe pedestrians crossing the road and the cars coming and going, to see what other people are doing and to think about what might happen if they play in the middle of the road. Then the can gradually allow their child to practice while ensuring safety, for example by letting them lead parents across the road.
- Encourage good behaviour and develop good habits. Protecting children from danger is not the same as being violent towards them. When children behave well, recognize their behaviour and gradually help them to develop the habit of crossing the road safely.
11. What should I do if my child throws a tantrum in a public place?
- Leave the scene and do not try to win the conflict over the child. If possible, remove the child from the situation to avoid the pressure of being surrounded and talked about, and wait in a relatively quiet place for the child to relief his or her feelings. If the child refuses to leave, wait until they calm down while ensuring their safety, or try to distract them with a different activity or object. Do not try to drown out the child's crying at a higher volume or use violence as this will only escalate the situation.
- Understanding the child's emotions. Once the child has calmed down, parents can hug them and encourage them to express their feelings, such as sadness, disappointment, aggression, anger, etc. Identify the cause of the tantrum - is it because they are tired, hungry, not getting something they want, or not allowed to go somewhere they wish to? Parents can tell them that they understand the child's disappointment or frustration, explain the reason, and discuss alternatives together. Stay firm and consistent so that children will know that their behaviour is not acceptable.
- Reaching an agreement before going out. Agree in advance on what they can buy or where they can go before going out. You can also make a shopping list or travel plan together as a family and everyone follows it. When children realize that their rights are respected and that their ideas are understood, they will not feel unfair and will therefore be able to make more sensible decisions.
12. What can I do if my child is being bullied or threatened? 12
If you know your child is being bullied, there are several steps you can take to help them:
- Listen to your child openly and calmly. Focus on making them feel heard and supported, instead of trying to find the cause of the bullying or trying to solve the problem. Make sure they know that it is not their fault.
- Tell the child that you believe them; that you are glad they told you; that it is not their fault; that you will do your best to find help.
- Talk to the teacher or school. You and your child do not have to face bullying alone. Ask if your school has a bullying policy or code of conduct. This may apply for both in-person bullying and online.
- Be a support system. For your child, having a supportive parent is essential to dealing with the effects of bullying. Make sure they know they can talk to you at any time and reassure them that things will get better.
13. I’m not sure if my child is being bullied. What signs should I look out for? 13
Look closely. Observe children’s emotional state, as some children may not express their concerns verbally. Signs to look out for include:
- Physical marks such as unexplained bruises, scratches, broken bones and healing wounds
- Fear of going to school or joining school events
- Being anxious, nervous or very vigilant
- Having few friends in school or outside of school
- Losing friends suddenly or avoiding social situations
- Clothing, electronics or other personal belongings being lost or destroyed
- Often asking for money
- Low academic performance
- Absenteeism, or calling from school asking to go home
- Trying to stay near adults
- Not sleeping well and may be having nightmares
- Complaining of headaches, stomach aches or other physical ailments
- Regularly distressed after spending time online or on their phone (without a reasonable explanation)
- Becomes unusually secretive, especially when it comes to online activities
- Being aggressive or having angry outbursts
Talk openly. Talk to your children about what they think is good and bad behaviour in school, in the community and online. It is important to have open communication so that your children will feel comfortable telling you about what is happening in their lives.
14. What can I do if my child is bullying others?14
If you think or know that your child is bullying other children, it’s important to remember that they are not inherently bad but may be acting out for a number of reasons. Children who bully often just want to fit in, need attention or are simply figuring out how to deal with complicated emotions. In some cases, bullies are themselves victims or witnesses to violence at home or in their community. There are several steps you should take to help your child stop bullying:
- Communicate. Understanding why your child is acting out will help you know how to help them. Are they feeling insecure at school? Are they fighting with a friend or sibling? If they are having trouble explaining their behaviour, you may choose to consult with a counsellor, social worker, or mental health professional who is trained to work with children.
- Work through healthy ways of coping. Ask your child to explain a scenario that frustrated them, and offer constructive ways of reacting. Use this exercise to brainstorm possible future scenarios and non-harmful responses. Encourage your child to “put yourself in their shoes” by imagining the experience of the person being bullied. Remind your child that comments made online still hurt in the real world.
- Examine yourself. Children who bully are often modelling what they see at home. Are they exposed to physically or emotionally harmful behaviour from you or another caregiver? Look inward and think honestly about how you are presenting to your child.
- Give consequences and opportunities to make amends. If you find out your child has been bullying, it is important to offer appropriate, non-violent consequences. This could be limiting their activities, especially those that encourage bullying (social gatherings, screen/social media time). Encourage your child to apologize to their peers and find ways for them to be more inclusive in the future.
15. How parents of children of different ages can practice positive parenting?
For infants and preschoolers (0-6 years):
- Understand that no infants make trouble on purpose. They make mistakes or cry a lot simply because they are not able to express themselves verbally.
- Establish a predictable routine and schedule to help them develop healthy habits.
- Protect them from danger through monitoring and educating, rather than yelling or hitting them.
- Use positive language and praise to encourage them to maintain good behaviour.
- Teach them to identify emotions though games and interaction, encourage them to express their feelings.
For school-aged children (7-12 years):
- Communicate openly and regularly with your child, chat about their thoughts, feelings, and experiences.
- Set clear expectations and reasonable limits or boundaries, help them develop a sense of self-control and understanding of rules.
- Encourage them to be independent and responsible by giving them the freedom to make their own decisions within appropriate boundaries.
- Provide positive reinforcement for good behaviour by giving them specific, sincere praise and rewards.
- Model the behavior you want your child to emulate in your own interaction with others.
For adolescents (13-18 years):
- Learn about adolescence and the characteristics of this stage of development, be prepared and be positive when facing this transitional period.
- Treat them equally as adults, as well as give them enough time and guidance to help them develop as a child, since the psychological and physical maturity of adolescents is often not synchronised.
- Do not try to establish your authority through violent discipline when your child acts rebelliously. Approach discipline in a positive, supportive way that helps children learn self-control and make responsible choices.
- Encourage them to participate in the decision-making process in the family and give them opportunities to take on responsibilities within the family.
- Support and encourage your child as they navigate their changing world, communicate and share your experience and provide guidance when needed.
16. Why is it important for fathers to be involved in childcare?
Men, like women, have an enormous impact on the health and development of children. The role of a father is important for a child’s development, from the start. Research shows that spending more time with your child can help them score higher on intelligence tests15, and help lower the rate or risk of depression, fear and self-doubt, which can be linked to improved outcomes for the children later in life with career and economic success.16
The involvement of fathers can, above all, bring about a diversity of parenting styles. As long as both parents share the basic philosophy of positive parenting, the diversity - such as being rougher versus more detailed, more planned versus more random, more daring versus more cautious- will give children more space and help them explore in various directions. These diverse experiences will enrich their knowledge and help them to be better prepared for a diverse world when they grow up.
In addition, the involvement of fathers can be a powerful way of breaking down gender stereotypes, such as the division of labour. If both parents demonstrate that they can share parenting tasks equally and take their respective responsibility, the idea of gender equality will be conveyed naturally and children will also have a similar attitude and will be less affected by gender stereotypes.
17. How can fathers be involved in parenting? 17
- 1. Take on an equal share of the work.
Men may not be able to breastfeed their babies, but they should be able to take on every other parenting task as well as women. There is nothing inherently different between men and women in terms of their ability to provide a child with nutrition, stimulation, and protection or as we say, eat, play, love. In fact, a study that looked at descriptions of fathering across different cultures concluded that fathers can be just as nurturing and affectionate as mothers and just as capable of providing care18. We should stop thinking of the role of fathers as simply “helping” mothers. Fathers play a central and equal role as parents and we do a great disservice to men when we believe otherwise.
Fathers should spend time with their children, listen to their concerns and offer advice, and engage in activities that they enjoy together. This can help build strong bonds and create lasting memories. Besides, they can also support their child's mother and work together as a team to provide a positive and loving environment for their child. Fathers can also set a good example for their children by living a healthy and responsible lifestyle. This can include eating well, doing exercise, communicating non-violently, and making positive choices.
- Give special attention to a child’s early years.
In typical situations, the younger the child, the less involved the father is in the child’s care. And only when the child gets older, does the father’s role increase. But a child’s early years, which take place from the ages of 0-3, is the most crucial in their life because it is when the brain is developing most rapidly. And the kind of care that a child receives during this time has the potential to greatly affect his or her future. So while it may be easier perhaps for men to take on a greater role in the later years when a child is older, involved parenting should start from the very beginning.
- Make it an objective to learn.
Research shows that men usually rely on women for knowledge on parenting. This shouldn’t be the case. As a father, you have the responsibility to find out how you can nurture, engage, and support your child at every stage of his or her life. UNICEF has tried to make it a little easier for parents by providing them with a place they can go to for expert and unbiased advice on raising children. Every single article on this Parenting Site is written for the benefit of both male and female caregivers and we encourage everyone to visit the site and make use of the resources.
3 Fry, D. (2016, November 7-9). Preventing violence against children: And how this contributes to building stronger economies [Thematic Research Paper]. The 3rd High-Level Meeting on Cooperation for Child Rights in the Asia-Pacific Region, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
4 Durrant, J.E., Ensom, R., and Coalition on Physical Punishment of Children and Youth (2004). Joint Statement on Physical Punishment of Children and Youth. Ottawa: Coalition on Physical Punishment of Children and Youth.
6 Council of Europe, Committee of Ministers Recommendation (2006) 19 on policy to support positive parenting.
7 Whittle, S., Simmons, J. G., Dennison, M., Vijayakumar, N., Schwartz, O., Yap, M. B. H., . . . Allen, N. B. (2014). Positive parenting predicts the development of adolescent brain structure: A longitudinal study. Developmental Cognitive Neuroscience, 8, 7-17.
8 Chen, Y., Kubzansky, L. D., & VanderWeele, T. J. (2019). Parental warmth and flourishing in mid-life. Social Science & Medicine, 220, 65-72.
9 Global status report on preventing violence against children. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2020. Licence: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 IGO.
10 End Corporal Punishment: Corporal punishment of children: review of research on its impact and associations, Full working paper, September 2021
11 Durrant, J. Positive Discipline: what it is and how to do it, Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children and Save the Children, 2009, p. 1-2.
15 Engle, P. L. and C. Breaux. 1994. Is there a Father Instinct? Fathers' Responsibility for Children. Paper prepared as part of the project, "Family Structure, Female Headship and Maintenance of Families and Poverty." Population Council and the International Center for Research on Women.
18 Engle, P. L. and C. Breaux. 1994. Is there a Father Instinct? Fathers' Responsibility for Children. Paper prepared as part of the project, "Family Structure, Female Headship and Maintenance of Families and Poverty." Population Council and the International Center for Research on Women.