Unfortunately, it is easier than ever for kids and teens to bully their peers. In this digital world, bullies can say something harmful without having to see the physical reactions of their victim or visually experience the effects of their words. To understand the injustice more fully, we first have to admit it exists, educate ourselves, and then take actions to prevent and protect the children in our care.
What is Cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying is a form of emotional bullying that takes place entirely online and/or through devices such as phones, computers, and gaming consoles. It is typically meant to humiliate, embarrass, or discourage others by sharing personal or private information, or by degrading another person. Cyberbullying is considered to be unlawful and/or criminal in some states and in some instances; however, cyberbullying is still a major problem.
Oftentimes, cyberbullying happens privately through text messages, messaging apps, or email, but many times it plays out on a more public platform such as social media where there is maximum fallout.
To identify cyberbullying, you should understand the tactics used to harm the victims. Many of these you’ll recognize as the digital equivalent of bullying that occurs offline. Some tactics include:
- Spreading rumors or making comments aimed to embarrass or cause emotional harm
- Using digital means to notify a person of their intent to harm them
- Communicating someone’s proposed worthlessness digitally and encouraging them to take their own life
- Sharing hurtful or embarrassing content such as images or videos of the victim and mocking them
- Pretending to be someone else to gather information about victims
- Shaming someone online for their religion, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status, etc.
- Doxing: Searching for and sharing the private information of victims publicly with malicious intent
Here are some examples of cyberbullying tactics in action:
- A young girl is sent hateful messages over messaging apps and texts because she likes the same popular boy that other girls also like.
- A transgender child receives digital messages of disgust or death threats from other children just for being who they are.
- A child goes to their first day of school in the best clothes they have, lets their picture be taken by fellow students thinking the students love their outfit, and later finds that those students posted the photos online and are teasing them for not having expensive name brand outfits.
How Cyberbullying Affects Children
Some statistics show that as many as 50% of children have experienced cyberbullying.
Victims of cyberbullying can experience wide-ranging effects, including mental health issues, poor academic performance, a desire to drop out of school, and even suicidal ideation.
Bullies themselves are also at an increased risk of issues such as substance abuse and experiencing violence.
Bottom line? When it comes to cyberbullying, everybody loses. So, what can you do to help your child?
How to Protect Your Child from Being Bullied or Being the Bully Online
As a parent, your child is like your heart running around outside your body. You are probably always thinking about how you can better prepare and protect your child. But maybe you’re wondering if your child is the one hurting the hearts of others.
Whether you are a parent looking to educate and protect your child because they are in harm’s way or because they may be doing the harming (which can have its own lasting negative impact on both parties), there are actions you can take.
Look for Teachable Moments
We’ve all heard the saying by now: “If you see something, say something.” Teaching your child to identify cyberbullying and to report it will help prevent expressions of prejudice and hate. It also teaches your child to stand up to against bullies in their lives and the lives of those around them. As a parent, you may be fearful of backlash for reporting these things. If that’s the case, encourage your child to report things in a way you feel is appropriate and has minimal-to-no backlash, such as anonymous reporting.
Practice Stepping Up
It can be scary to speak up for someone being bullied, and it can be hard to know what to do if they themselves are being bullied. Your child can practice being aware and reporting starting now—it may even be good to role play or ask your child what they would do in certain situations.
Here are some practical steps children can take to deal with cyberbullying, according to Laura Tierney of The Social Institute:
- Be on the lookout for anything that makes them feel unsafe: Teach kids to trust their gut. If something feels wrong to them, they should listen to that.
- Take a screenshot: "With disappearing Snaps and with disappearing Instagram stories, it's easy to say, 'Well, I might have seen this, but it's disappeared'," Tierney says. By taking a screenshot and saving it, your child has solid proof and a record of what they’ve seen online.
- Tell the right people what they’ve seen: Don’t just tell your child or teenager to “tell somebody” if they see something. Make sure they understand who the right “somebody” is. If they don’t know who to turn to and tell, they will likely only tell their peers, and that does nothing to stop the cyberbullying.
Monitoring Your Child on Social Media
As a parent, you have the right to monitor your child online or to have access to their devices. We highly recommend you do so for their protection (and potentially to protect others). Nick Wingfield of the New York Times has some good things to say on this topic in his article Should You Spy on Your Kids.
A Pew Research Center survey of adults with children 13 to 17 years old, published this year, found:
- 61% of parents checked the websites their teenagers visited
- 60% visited their social media accounts
- 48% looked through their phone calls and messages
- 16% tracked their teenagers’ whereabouts through their cellphones
If you’re one of those parents, now you know you aren’t alone.
Be open with your children about monitoring their social media use and online activities, and encourage them to share what they're doing with you. Learn about the different sites, apps, and platforms they use -- these change in popularity often, so do your homework every so often.
What to Do if Your Child is the Bully
One of the greatest disappointments and causes of sadness for parents is the knowledge that their own child is causing harm to others. It's important to address your child's behavior as soon as you learn about it. Many parents instinctually want to deny that their child could be causing harm, but denying or ignoring the problem will only cause additional problems. Get all the information you can about any incidents and talk to your child about what happened.
Is your child the bully? If you know they are, rest assured that we can help you and them if you are in Idaho.