An Anti-Cyberbullying Guide for Parents
Bullying can be defined as “an intentional behavior that hurts, harms, or humiliates a student, either physically or emotionally, and can happen at school, in the community or online,” according to Pacer.org, a national bullying prevention center that also offers that “those bullying often have more social or physical ‘power’ while those targeted have difficulty stopping the behavior.” The term bullying was not actually publicly recognized until a newspaper The Times first raised awareness to the crucial issues of bullying and consequences. Today, bullying is viewed much differently, especially as technological advances have permeated our society.
Cyberbullying is a type of harassment carried out through electronic means. This harassment includes sending hurtful or threatening emails or instant messages, spreading rumors, or posting embarrassing photos of others. “Cyberbullying among preteens and teens has increased dramatically in recent years as young people spend more time socializing online,” according to the Second Youth Internet Safety Survey.
If you discover that your child is the victim of cyberbullying, take some steps to help them cope with the situation, whether that’s encouraging them to talk about the situation or setting up a cozy meditation space in the house where they can escape from technology for a while each day. Here are some tips for identifying where your child is a victim of cyberbullying and steps you can take to help.
Some of the most prevalent forms of cyberbullying, according to Heimdal Security, are direct harassment through messaging apps, chat room bashing, by proxy (the bully manages to convince other internet users to harass the victim, either through lies or persuasion), denigration that involves the spreading of false rumors and other forms of gossiping about the victim, exposure (attacker uses personal information about the victim to humiliate them), and phishing. Knowing what to look for is paramount to addressing the issue, especially if your child isn’t quite ready to tell you. Look for changes in behavior; your child may stop using the computer altogether or may insist on using it when you’re not around. They may seem nervous or jumpy or suddenly uninterested or reluctant to go to school. Be aware and talk about the impetus for these changes.
“The goal of any bully is to goad his or her victim into anger, in effect ‘getting to’ the target and making him or her acknowledge ridiculous claims or malicious statements. The best option is to block the bully from social media and email accounts altogether,” recommends Kaspersky, an anti-virus and internet security firm. Prevention is two-fold. Those observing cyberbullying must be willing to report suspicious situations, while those experiencing cyberbullying are encouraged to disengage. Start by talking with your child. Work to understand the scope of the situation. If you know where the bullying is coming from, you might reach out to the parents of the harasser, connect with school counselors, or resort to getting law enforcement involved.
Once a child has learned to spot bullying, it is important for them to advocate for themselves to the best of their abilities. Autism Speaks explains that “it is essential to teach your child or student how to advocate for him or herself… help him or her understand why it is important to stand up for him or herself and communicate in his or her own way in order to stop the bullying and prevent it from happening again.” Being able to speak up for oneself, being encouraged to express one’s needs, and taking action are essential self-advocacy tools for children and youth. They’re also practical tools for adulthood.
Report and Support
We are all responsible for identifying and putting an end to cyberbullying. Children often don’t report cyberbullying because they’re embarrassed or fearful. According to DoSomething.org, only one in 10 victims tells a trusted adult about online bullying—and yet 68 percent of teens agree that cyberbullying is a serious problem. Keep a record of what is happening and where, including screenshots and all pertinent information. You can report bullying to individual social media apps or go directly to school or law enforcement.
Being the victim of cyberbullying puts your child at risk for anxiety and depression. Being able to talk to your child about how they conduct themselves online and how to spot cyberbullying is the first step in understanding what cyberbullying is and how to address the issue should it come up.