Cyberbullying is the intentional, repeated abuse of a person that takes place electronically--often through texts, chat, social media sites, and websites.
Ways people bully each other include rumors, threats, embarrassing photos or videos posted on social media, and fake profiles on social media accounts. Youth may feel like they are unable to escape cyber bullying because it can take place at any time of the day and reach kids wherever they are. Additionally, it can be difficult to identify who the bully is due to the anonymous nature of many social media sites. Deleting the messages, photos, posts, and texts after they have been posted can be very difficult so the abuse may never disappear.
Cyberbullying has also been linked to an increased risk of suicide, according to a recent report from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). The risk of suicide has always been greater in teens; in 2015, 18% of Roanoke Valley high school students had made a plan to attempt suicide in the past year. This new report from AAP states that suicide ideation and behavior were increased in victims and bullies and were highest in youth who were both bullies and victims of bullying.
Some things parents can do to PREVENT cyber bullying include:
Build trust with your child or teen. Do this by setting limits and explaining your reasons for them and discussing rules for online safety and internet use. Your teen will be more likely to follow the rules if they help set them. If you prefer, you can create an age-appropriate "Technology Use Contract" to foster a crystal-clear understanding about what is and is not appropriate.
Learn how social media sites and apps work. Become familiar with sites like Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, Kik, After School, Yik Yak, Ask.fm, and Burn Notice. Trends change, so be vigilant by searching online for what apps and websites are popular. Click HERE for a list of apps to know!
Talk regularly and specifically with your teen about online issues. Let them know they can come to you for help if anything is inappropriate, upsetting, or dangerous.
Building trust with your child can take time. If you see the following signs, approach them and express your concern. You can also share these signs with your child in the case your kids' friends are being bullied or are bullying.
A youth may be being cyberbullied if they:
unexpectedly stop using their device(s)
appear nervous or jumpy when using device(s)
appear uneasy about being at school or outside
appear to be angry, depressed, or frustrated after texting, chatting, using social media, or gaming
become abnormally withdrawn
avoid discussions about their activities online
A youth may be cyberbullying others if they:
quickly switch screens or hides their device
use their device(s) at all hours of the night
get unusually upset if they can't use their device(s)
avoid discussions about what they are doing online
seem to be using multiple online accounts, or an account that is not their own
In general, if a child acts in ways that are inconsistent with their usual behavior when using these communication devices, it is time to find out why. Unfortunately, not all situations can be prevented through trust and communication with your child.
Some tips for navigating the situation if your teen is being cyberbullied:
Make sure your child feels (and is) safe and secure, and convey unconditional support for them.
Tell your youth not to respond to any cyberbullying threats or comments online, but also to not delete any of the messages. Print out messages or screenshots. You will need the messages to verify and prove there is cyberbullying.
Don't overreact. If they are being bullied, be supportive and understanding. Find out how long the bullying has been going on and ensure your child that you'll work together to find a solution. Let them know they are not to blame for being bullied.
Don't underreact. Telling them to "shrug it off," just deal with the bullying or having a "kids will be kids" attitude will make them think the situation isn't important to you.
Don't threaten to take away your teen's electronic devices if they come to you with a problem. This only forces kids to be more secretive.
Talk to your school's guidance counselor so they can keep an eye out for bullying at school.
Contact the content provider. Cyberbullying violates the Terms of Service of all legitimate service providers (websites, apps, internet, or cell phone companies). Regardless of whether your child can identify who is harassing them, contact the relevant provider. An updated list of contact information can be found HERE.
If the bullying is based on race, sex, or disability, contact the Office of Civil Rights. The U.S. Department of Education takes these cases very seriously if children are limited in their ability to learn and thrive at school because of discrimination. Read on how to file a complaint HERE and download the complaint file HERE.
If there are threats of physical violence, a crime has been committed (extortion, stalking, blackmail, sexual exploitation of minors, etc.) or the bullying continues to escalate, get law enforcement involved.
Cyberbullying is a growing problem because increasing numbers of kids are using and have completely embraced online interactivity. According to the Cyberbullying Research Center, a remarkable 95% of teens in the U.S. are online, and 74% access the internet on their mobile device. Do your part by educating yourself, your child, and fellow parents so that you are better prepared to address this unfortunate common issue in youth culture. For more resources on cyberbullying click HERE.