By Janice Miller
It is every parent’s nightmare: their child is being bullied. Except it’s even more insidious if the bullying is happening online where it’s hard to see and even harder to stop.
Whether we believe it or not, cyberbullying is a growing issue among youth – one study says up to 34 percent of teens report that they have experienced some form of cyberbullying. In some extreme cases, cyberbullying has led directly to suicide. As a parent, how can you prevent, spot and address cyberbullying? How can you get your child to talk about what might be happening to them, and how can you help them overcome it?
Here are a few tips to help parents help their child overcome cyberbullying.
Common Types of Cyberbullying
From TeenSafe, here are the most commonly reported kinds of cyberbullying that kids and teens experience:
- 19% of cyberbullying often entails the spreading of rumors
- 13% of victimized children experience hurtful comments
- 72% of children report they are cyberbullied because of their looks
- 26% of victims are chosen due to their race or religion
- 22% of harassed children feel that their sexuality was the cause of the bullying
- 40% of children with autism and and 60% of children with Asperger’s Syndrome report experiencing bullying on- and offline
Communicate With Your Kids
First and foremost, build a foundation of communication with your children. Make it a regular habit to talk with them about everyday issues so that when difficult issues come up, it will be normal to discuss those as well. When you want to talk about cyberbullying, try bringing up a cyberbullying incident you have read about in the news and ask your child what they think about it. This could naturally lead to a discussion about their experience with the issue.
Watch for Signs and Address Them
Even if you and your kids communicate well, they still may not tell you everything. Keep an eye out for the following behaviors that suggest they may be the victim of cyberbullying:
- Acting nervous when they get a text message
- Suddenly not wanting to use the computer or trying to use it where you can’t see it
- Talking about “drama at school” or “not having any friends”
- Not wanting to go to school
- Becoming withdrawn and distant
If you see any of these signs, have a conversation with your child or teenager. Tell her you have noticed that she seems different lately and ask about cyberbullying. If she doesn’t want to talk with you, let her know you’re going to check her phone and computer for records of communications.
If you confirm that cyberbullying is taking place, there are a few things you can do:
- Suggest that your kid point out to the bully that her parents have access to everything on her phone or computer.
- If this doesn’t help, you can talk to the bully’s parents to explain what’s going on.
- You can also reach out to school administration. They should have policies and resources to help you.
- If all else fails, don’t be afraid to call in the police. Make sure to print out evidence of the bullying so you have documentation.
Make Social Media a Positive
If your child is being bullied online, chances are much of it is coming through social media (Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, Tumblr are the most popular platforms for kids and teens). While withdrawing completely from social media is certainly an option, most kids want to maintain a presence to keep up with their peers, so give them some guidance on making social media more of a positive influence instead of a negative.
First, limit your child’s time online so she has more time for positive, face-to-face interactions. Also, monitor carefully who she follows and interacts with online in order to minimize peer pressure. If someone is a negative influence, they can always be blocked. Promote connecting with positive influences, friends and role models.
Security and Privacy
One of the best things your kids can do is not respond to cyberbullying. Responses only encourage more abuse, so ignoring the behavior online is the best way to handle it. You should also help your children be diligent and careful with their online security. Make sure she limits the amount of personal information she posts and never posts her phone number.
She should also keep passwords secure and change them regularly. Your child’s social media accounts should always be set to private, and she should not accept friend or follow requests from people she doesn’t know. You can also install monitoring software on devices and computers to both protect and inform you of her activity online.
Cyberbullying is a serious issue that we must help our kids fight. Your role as a parent is to protect and guide your child through difficulties such as this. Stay alert and vigilant, and communicate with your kids – this will go a long way toward beating cyberbullying.
About Janice Miller
Janice Miller has always been an advocate for ensuring safety. It started in the community, in a physical neighborhood, but the more she engaged online, the more she saw that there was a need to ensure safety on the Internet as well.