According to government statistics, up to 21 percent of kids aged 12 to 18 report being cyberbullied — and that’s just the numbers for reported cases. The hard truth is that many kids, some even younger than 12, are cyberbullied and either don’t recognize it or don’t say anything to anyone in a position of authority. It’s your job as parents to be on the lookout for signs your child is a victim of cyberbullying and to know what to do if you find out they are. Here’s a primer.
What Is Cyberbullying?
Every parent is familiar with the bullying of their day and age — playground scuffles, fights at the Friday night football game, cold shoulders at the school dance. However, cyberbullying is a newer and extremely potent form of bullying. One basic definition of cyberbullying is any use of digital means to harass, intimidate, scare, ridicule, or ostracize. Cyberbullying can happen via text, websites, blogs, Facebook, Twitter, or any form of digital communication.
How to Know If Your Child Is the Victim of a Cyberbully
Although the easiest way to know if your child is being cyberbullied is them telling you directly, that’s unlikely to happen. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t ask, however. That’s step one.
Beyond that, it’s up to you to spot the warning signs. Some include:
- They either stop using the computer/phone or begin to do so only in private. A rapid increase in social media/internet use can also be a warning sign.
- They get jumpy or defensive when they get a text or message.
- They become withdrawn.
- They are hanging out with friends and at social engagements less and less.
- They appear angry, sad, depressed, or agitated.
If you suspect something is going on, you may want to gain access to their texts, online messages, social media accounts, and any other online platforms (gaming, video, etc.). While you should always have access to your younger children’s digital life, asking for access for an older child (early teen) may feel like an invasion of their privacy. It’s a delicate subject, for sure, but it may be necessary if cyberbullying is occurring. There are also ways to monitor their online activity without actually seizing control of it.
How you approach your own child is personal, but you should be gentle no matter what. Let them know you suspect it and that they can tell you anything without fear.
You should contact your child’s school (if the bully is a classmate) or coach/instructor (if the bully knows your child from an extracurricular activity). You should not contact the bully’s parents directly, as this almost always leads to defensiveness and confrontation. If the bullying is very serious and gets to the point where you fear for your child’s safety or mental health, you may need to hire a digital forensic expert to help you keep records of the bullying to be used as proof should any legal action need to be undertaken. There are many trusted options available for this service, such as SecureForensics.
How to Prevent Additional Cyberbullying
Addressing the source of the bullying is certainly an effective first step, but you must make more decisions as a parent to protect your child from further abuse. You may need to limit or at least closely monitor online time. Get to know your child’s online friends. For instance, require your child to report any bullying to you (let them know that this is not akin to “tattling”).
Keep in mind that you must teach your child that retribution is not the answer under any circumstances. Teach them they can use privacy settings to their advantage and that they should simply block or ignore online nuisances if they persist.
Cyberbullying is a very serious problem — one that can lead to tragic consequences. Some children have been cyberbullied to the point of taking their own life, so it’s certainly not an issue to take lightly or simply wait for it to pass. The good news is that cyberbullying can be addressed, stopped, and prevented, and kids can overcome its effects with guidance and counseling. However, remember this: Recognizing and, in turn, dealing with cyberbullying, like many things, starts with you — the parent. Be observant, be compassionate, and take action.