We, as parents, grew up in an age where bullying in school was a common problem. Bigger kids picking on smaller kids, bullies verbally or physically harassing another student, and groups of friends spreading negative rumors about people they dislike. In today's era, things are a little different. In fact, children may be vulnerable to bullying now more than ever. Besides physical bullying in the classroom, children are now becoming victims of cyberbullying.
You may have heard this term before in recent years, there have been several devastating stories of children taking their own lives due to cyberbullying. The trend of cyberbullying surged for children as social media began to take over their cell phones. It would be very hard to find a pre-teen or teenager today who doesn't use at least one form of social media.
While these social medias can be very entertaining and help you connect to your friends online, it can and has been used for nefarious and sometimes even criminal acts. If your child has downloaded social media onto their phone, it's time to have a talk about cyberbullying and the severe impact it can have on someone's mental health. Not only is it imperative to talk about how to avoid cyberbullying, but it's also just as important to tell your child to never cyberbully anyone else. Let's dive deep into this topic and talk about what parents can do to protect their children.What is Cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying is a type of bullying that takes place over digital media and devices, such as cell phones, computers, and other devices that connect online. Cyberbullying can occur in several different places, whether it be through texting, through phone apps, on social media, through email, or in online forums where people can post content. There are many ways a person can start to cyberbully someone. They can send, post, or share negative, untrue, or downright mean content about another person. These posts can reveal private information about someone, perpetrate false rumors, or cause other forms of humiliation and embarrassment.How Harmful is Cyberbullying?
The effects of cyberbullying can be traumatic and cause life-long mental health effects. In many ways, cyberbullying can be even crueler than physical bullying, because the impact can spread over into other aspects of life besides just school. Even when a child comes home, all their phone activity can still be filled with negative and hateful comments. It can feel impossible to escape, and the pain can be unbearable.
Chronic cyberbullying can lead to a child developing depression, insomnia, fatigue, and poor performance in school. In severe cases, children can feel suicidal. They may turn to self-harm, like cutting. Unfortunately, there have already been several cases of children and teenagers taking their life because of cyberbullying. Any case of cyberbullying should be taken extremely seriously, and interventional methods should be started immediately.How is Cyberbullying Unique From Regular Bullying?
Cyberbullying is different because anything shared online will be there forever, leaving a permanent impact. Additionally, anything on the Internet can be read and seen by other acquaintances or total strangers. Harmful and mean posts can create a type of permanent record for someone online, which can be brought up years later.
Hateful posts can even impact a person's real-life reputation. Schools, colleges, employers, or other professional establishments can research a person's online life. This can hurt the victim's chances of getting into a school or getting a job. The bully themselves can also suffer from a negative impact as their own mean words come back to bite them.
Cyberbullying that is happening through a digital device or social media can be exhausting because the bullying can be extremely persistent. Children and teens have access to their phone sometimes 24 hours a day, allowing people to bully hour after hour. This leads to victims feeling trapped with no way out to find relief. To make matter's worse, cyberbullying is much easier to hide since it doesn't always have to be present in school. This leads to parents and teachers being unaware that something is wrong, especially when a victim is afraid to speak up about it.Statistics on Cyberbullying
The statistics on cyberbullying are quite shocking. It can be hard for parents to see just how cruel the world can be for their child. These sobering statistics, however, highlight the need to bring awareness to end cyberbullying.
According to the i-SAFE Foundation's cyberbullying statistics:
- Over half of adolescents and teens have been bullied online, and about the same number have engaged in cyberbullying themselves
- More than 1 in 3 young people have experienced a threat online
- Over 25% of adolescents have been bullied through their cell phone or over the Internet
- Over half of cyberbullying victims do not tell their parents when cyberbullying occurs
Another organization called The Cyberbullying Research Center also provided some concerning statistics:
- Over 80% of teens use a cell phone regularly, making it the most common medium for cyberbullying
- 10-20% of young people experience cyberbullying regularly
- Hateful, hurtful, and spreading rumors are the most common types of cyberbullying
- Cyberbullying victims are more likely to have low self-esteem and to consider suicide
Cyberbullies have many ways to hurt other people online. Parents should know the different types of bullying so they can recognize it and address the situation as early as possible. Some of the most common ways a cyberbully attacks someone online can include:
- Posting hateful, mean, or embarrassing comments or rumors about someone online
- Sending threats of violence
- Telling others online to kill themselves
- Pretending to be another person online to post false information
- Making mean comments about people's personal characteristics online, such as race, religion, or ethnicity
- Creating a website designed to hurt someone
- Releasing private or nude photos of someone (also called revenge porn)
- Creating lies and false accusations about someone
- Bullying someone for their sexual identity, usually for being gay
- Doxxing someone online (posting a person's personal information online including their address, email, social media, and phone number)
These are just the most common types of cyberbullying. There are many other ways cyberbullying can occur, and each case is unique in their own way.How can I Tell if my Child is Being Cyberbullied?
Many children and teens who are victims of cyberbullying do not tell their parents about it and avoid seeking help. Sometimes it is only up to the parents to recognize the warning signs of cyberbullying. It's important to note that the more digital platforms and social media your child uses, the more opportunities there are to be cyberbullied. Here are some ways to help identify if your child is possibly being cyberbullied or is cyberbullying others:
- Your child has a noticeable increase or decrease in using their phone, including texting and browsing social media
- Your child is hiding their screen or phone when others come near, and avoids talking about what they're doing online
- Your child's social media accounts are shut down or newer ones appear
- Your child begins to withdrawal from activities, even those that they have previously enjoyed
- Your child seems depressed, fatigued, or loses interests in people and activities
If you notice signs of cyberbullying happening, act NOW! Addressing cyberbullying as soon as it begins to happen is the best way to protect a child's mental health. If you are suspecting your child might be involved in cyberbullying, take these steps:
- Talk to your child about what's going on. Approach them with care and support, rather than with accusations and shaming. Ask them questions about what's been happening with them, how the cyberbullying started, and who is involved in it. Get the full scope of how this situation presented itself and how it's currently progressing.
- Keep a complete record of everything that's been happening online. If there are hurtful posts or comments on the Internet, take screenshots and keep them in a safe place. It's best to get pictures of every single instance of cyberbullying. For states that have laws on cyberbullying, the police usually require proof that there is repeated behavior happening.
- Report the cyberbullying ASAP. Most schools and social media platforms have policies and reporting processes for cyberbullying. If the cyberbullying is limited to people in class, notify the school. If your child might be in threat of physical violence, or if a potential crime has been committed, report it directly to the police.
- Provide support for your child or teen. It can be very hard or even embarrassing for a child to open up about being bullied, because they don't want to seem weak or "stupid" for not being able to handle it themselves. On top of that, many teens don't like to talk to their parents about personal details of their life at all. It's a teenager thing. Good support can be presented in different ways. Family and friends can help post positive messages on the child's social media, or the child can take an extended break from being online. If the situation is right, it may be beneficial to approach the bully and express your feelings. If your child seems to be suffering mentally, don't wait to seek out professional help, such as with a guidance counselor or therapist.
It's the parent's responsibility to keep their child as safe as possible both at home and at school, and that means bringing awareness to cyberbullying and taking active steps to prevent it. Here are some tips for parents to help you prevent cyberbullying:
- Have a serious talk with your child about cyberbullying, what it means, how it can affect someone, and the severe consequences it can have. Make a strict rule that your child may not send mean, hateful, or untrue comments or post bad pictures online, even if they weren't the first person to start it. If they start doing this, their online privileges will be taken away immediately.
- Encourage your child to speak up if cyberbullying is happening. If they are a victim in the situation, reassure them that it's not their fault and there is help available.
- If someone online seems to start cyberbullying your child, try blocking them immediately to prevent it from going any further. Tell your child it's okay to block someone if they feel uncomfortable with what they're saying or posting.
- Tell your child to never send texts or post content online that they wouldn't want to be completely public. Remind them that anything posted online can stay online forever.
- Encourage your child to avoid sharing personal information to someone they have only met online. Teach them about online safety and online predators.
- If there's a home computer, keep it in a shared space so you can check up on what they're doing.
- Limit the amount of time your child can have their phone or be online. Encourage children to get off their phones during family times or when they go to bed.
- Monitor your child or teen's social media sites, apps, and browsing history if you have concerns about cyberbullying. Be careful in doing this, however, as children often feel upset if their privacy is intruded.
- Review your child's privacy settings on their phone.
- Follow your child or teen on their social media sites so you can be updated on what they're posting.
- Know the password for your child's email and social media.
- Download a parent monitoring app to help track your child's online posting.
Cyberbullying is a serious problem in the United States and has already been the cause for several suicides. This means, as parents, we must actively fight against cyberbullying and protect our children when they go online. In some cases, cyberbullying can even be worse than regular school bullying. If you're interested in hearing personal cases of cyberbullying to understand the full extent of the problem, there are several documentaries online like Cyberbully and Audie & Daisy that go into deep detail of their situation. Please be aware that these movies contain some graphic scenes. Additional resources for cyberbullying are listed below: