At least one in five
young people in the US have experienced some kind of bullying—and it’s not just happening on the playground or in the classroom.
Increased access to the Internet, social media, texting, and email have given way to a whole new brand of bullying: cyberbullying.
One of the scariest things for parents is that cyberbullying can be more difficult to detect.
However, when you know what to look for, you can identify signs of cyber bullying and take action to protect your child.
What is cyberbullying?
Basically all forms of aggression or harassment that occur by electronic means—including name calling, shaming, posting humiliating media, sending threatening emails and texts, and inciting mob mentality on the Internet—are considered cyberbullying
Any form of bullying is a nightmare for both the child and their parents, but cyberbullying is especially concerning due to how pervasive it is. Because kids these days are so tied to their mobile devices, there’s often nowhere for them to hide.
Additionally, it can be difficult for parents to know if cyberbullying is happening, because it occurs online and through texts and emails sent directly to the child.
But despite these built-in obstacles, it’s important that you know when and how to step in before cyberbullying can escalate into a crisis situation.
As in any crisis prevention scenario, education, awareness, and a sensible plan of action are the keys to minimizing damage and facilitating a safe, successful outcome for all parties. You can’t usually identify cyber bullying through a black eye or a note from a teacher, but there are plenty of signs that can give you a clue about when it’s time to dig deeper.
What are the signs of cyberbullying?
- Changes in online habits: If your child suddenly starts spending more or less time online, or stops taking their phone everywhere with them, it could be a sign that they are being bullied. Although online habits naturally ebb and flow, drastic use changes can indicate a reason for concern.
- Mood changes after going online: A strong change in your child’s demeanor after spending time on social media should be a warning that something is amiss. Pay attention to how they act when they log off their computer or put their phone away. If they seem dejected or quiet, it could indicate that they’re experiencing a lot of emotions while engaged in online activities.
- Account changes or deletions: When a child or teen abandons their established social media account and starts over, there’s a good chance they were experiencing things they didn’t like on the old account. If they drop social media altogether, it could be a sign of acute crisis. Cyberspace is an extension of their social reality; feeling helpless enough to want to escape completely is serious.
- A surge of new contacts: More contacts or followers on social media doesn’t always mean more friends. Sometimes bullied kids see a drastic increase in “friends” when people jump on the bandwagon to join in on bullying behavior.
- Unhappy messages or posts: If you see your child post comments about feeling upset or lonely, they may be having trouble with peers. Posting poems or song lyrics about depression or despair is another sign.
- A change in demeanor: Watch out for changes in posture, tone, and general attitude. Lack of enthusiasm about things they used to look forward to, or avoiding people or activities can be signs that your child is feeling harassed or targeted.
- Physical changes: Loss of appetite, decreased hygiene, and increased social withdrawal are signs that something’s not right. Acting jumpy or unusually secretive about online activities is another red flag.
How can I help prevent cyber bullying?
- Educate yourself and your child: Make sure both you and your child understand the responsibilities and dangers of online activities. Discuss what cyber bullying is, how to identify it, and what to do when it happens.
- Promote personal information protection: Your child needs to protect their personal information. Teach them not to reveal identifying details like their phone number and address online. You may even encourage them not to publish where they go to school.
- Encourage safe online habits: Teach your child the basics of Internet security. They should never share their passwords, never leave accounts accessible on public computers, and never open a message or link from someone they don’t know.
- Explain privacy settings: Help your kid select the appropriate privacy settings for all social media accounts. They should only accept friend requests from people they personally know and only allow posts to be broadcast to their circle of friends or group of followers. Limiting online exposure helps keep the bullies at bay.
- Help them think before they post: Emphasize the potential repercussions of posting photos, videos, and comments online. Your child should never post anything that could be later used to embarrass or harass them. Help them understand the importance of safeguarding their reputation. Everything they post may one day be seen by college admissions officials or potential employers.
- Check in regularly: In addition to talking to your child about their online experience, take a look at what’s happening on their accounts. They should always have you as one of their friends or followers so you can keep an eye out for dangerous activity. Being familiar with their online world is the best way for you to notice if something is wrong.
If you are worried that your child may be dealing with cyberbullying, check in with them and compassionately push to get to the real issue. Open communication and pre-established safeguards are the best tactics when it comes to protecting your child online. It’s not possible to keep kids out of harm’s way 100 percent of the time, but you can be proactive and diligent when it comes to identifying and preventing cyberbullying.
Sarah Brown is a tech specialist with a love of all topics relating to the Internet of Things. She writes about upcoming technologies, Internet safety, and the world of online gaming. Sarah believes that through entertainment, technology, and the written word, we can all stay connected to each other and create a safe environment out in the ether.