Bullying is nothing new — It's been around since the dawn of time in one form or another. But today's bullies have access to technology that provides them with a new platform for harassment. Both in-person and online bullying can have significant emotional impacts on children and teens.
As a parent, it can be difficult to know when it's time to step in. Monitoring kid's online access is harder than ever before — Between texting, social media, online gaming and more, there are dozens of online platforms our children may spend time on. It's important for parents to stay involved in our kid's online activity and be on the look out for cyberbullying and other risks.
What is cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying is the use of technology to harass, threaten, embarrass or target another person. Cyberbullying is especially prominent among children and teens, and can lead to exclusion, withdrawal, depression and emotional trauma.
Sometimes it's easy to know your child is experiencing cyberbullying, if you notice or your child confides in you that a peer is sending mean, harsh or cruel messages through social media or another online platform. But in most cases, it's more difficult to spot cyberbullying, and your child may be too embarrassed or confused to share this with you.
Recent studies attempting to determine cyberbullying rates have discovered that about one in four teens report being a victim of cyberbullying, while about one in six teens admit to using a digital platform to bully someone in the past.
What are the warning signs of cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying can make kids and teens feel embarrassed and misunderstood, and many children experiencing cyberbullying will hesitate to tell a parent or teacher about the harassment. They may feel threatened by their bully and think the abuse will only get worse if they tell, or they may be ashamed of being a cyberbullying victim. It's important for parents to keep an eye on their child's internet activity and stay tuned in to their child's feelings and emotions in order to detect cyberbullying.
Signs of cyberbullying vary, but may include:
- Secrecy around internet activities, like switching tabs or closing the browser when a parent approaches, or preferring to use their devices in another room from parents and family
- Being visibly upset or uncomfortable during or after using their phone or digital device
- Acting nervous, anxious or jumpy about new text messages or notifications on a phone or device
- Withdrawing from family gatherings, friends, and activities the child or teen used to enjoy, like after-school activities or sports teams
- Changes in mood, behavior, sleep or appetite
- Acting angry or defensive when asked about online activity, or refusing to allow a parent to see the teen's phone or digital device
What are the effects of cyberbullying?
The rise of cyberbullying has exposed kids and teens to a 24-hour cycle of opportunities to bully or be bullied. Rather than just worrying about bullying at school, on the bus or in after-school activities, now there's no escape - children can be cyberbullied at home, in their rooms, or anywhere they have access to their phones or computers.
Bullying and cyberbullying can have severe negative consequences for both the victims and the bullies. Long-term or frequent bullying is linked to higher stress levels, anxiety and depression. In some tragic cases, victims of cyberbullying have committed suicide.
What should I do if my child is being cyberbullied?
If your child confides in you or you discover that they're being cyberbullied, it's important to offer comfort and support. Don't scold your child for their online activities or for not coming to you sooner — Instead, reassure your child that you're on their side and you're here to help. Remind your child or teen that bullying is common, and they're not alone.
Take action. Talk to your child about how they'd like to proceed and make a plan that makes both of you comfortable. If the bully is a student at your child's school, talk to a teacher, the principle or a school nurse about the situation so they'll be aware. Many schools and youth organizations have a protocol for responding to cyberbullying, so ask about these policies when you report the harassment.
Talk to your child about strategies for avoiding cyberbullying online and in real life. While the internet is pervasive and it can be difficult to avoid someone completely, there are digital safeguards you may be able to enact like blocking the bully's phone number, removing them from social networks and joining different online gaming communities.
Remind your child that bullying is wrong, and encourage them to report incidents to you and to help and support friends and peers who may be experiencing cyberbullying.