A Cyberbullying Prevention Guide for Parents
What It Is, What Signs to Watch For, and How to Stop It
Discovering your child is being bullied is any parent’s nightmare. We think of bullying as something that happens at school, on the playground, or in the neighborhood, but the internet has given birth to cyberbullying, a new and dangerous form of bullying that is ongoing every day, 24/7.
Cyberbullying is any form of bullying that occurs through the use of technology on a digital device like mobile phones, computers, cameras, and tablets. Attacks happen commonly via text messages, email, websites, message boards, and social networking sites.
Cyberbullying is dangerous because it is so easy to access these technologies today, the bullies can stay anonymous, and once something is posted online it is almost impossible to delete from the Internet. It is public and can be shared with lots of people very quickly, escalating the victim’s humiliation. It adversely affects the victim’s life at school and at home, with no escape, and can lead to intense emotional pain. “Relentless” cases of extreme cyberbullying have resulted in death.
Today, 1 in 4 teenagers report that they’ve experienced some level of cyberbullying. What can you, as a parent, do to protect your child? Understanding what cyberbullying is and what to watch for can help help prevent it from happening.
Signs of Cyberbullying
The idea of someone cyberbullying our own child is terrifying. One of the trickiest things about cyberbullying is that the signs can be subtle. kKids often are embarrassed to talk about it, and the attacks are ususally anonymous. Cyberbullying is not always overt; sometimes, it can be hidden from view using three types of microaggressions: microassaults, microinsults, and microinvalidation:
- Microassaults may not be physical assaults, but they still hurt. This form uses language or imagery to discriminate based on race, gender, sexual orientation, ethnicity, or heritage.
- Microinsults are negative or insensitive communications regarding a person’s heritage, culture, or identity.
- Microinvalidation is an open, unashamed, and intentional disregard for a person’s situation. Victims of microinvalidation are often minorities.
If your child or teen suddenly changes computer habits, avoids technology altogether (a leading sign of cyberbullying), becomes withdrawn or secretive, demonstrates behavioral changes, or begins avoiding school, something is wrong and it’s important to instigate a conversation.
How to Prevent Cyberbullying
The best things you can do as a parent is to proactively monitor your child’s online activities, help them set up safe privacy controls, and teach them how to block others. By staying aware of what they’re doing, how they’re using technology, and the conversations they’re having, you can watch for the warning signs. Share with them your concerns, some of the dangers of bullying and cyberbullying, and your goal to keep them safe.
Establish rules about being online, such as keeping computers in visible areas, suggesting limits of cellphone and internet use, asking your child not to get into online arguments. Educate your child about the need for strong passwords – or better yet, help them create strong passwords and encourage your child to use them and not to change them. Teach them to pause before posting online, to reread and consider if the post is ok for everyone to see, including a future employer.
"Don't say anything online that you wouldn't want plastered on a billboard with your face on it." – Erin Bury
How to Help
If you suspect cyberbullying, help your child talk about the issue so that you can work together to overcome it as a family. Make sure your child knows they are not alone and you are there to help. it’s important to treat cyberbullying seriously without over-reacting. Having a calm approach is important as your child might feel shame and be embarrassed to talk about their experience.
Ask your child to show you any saved text messages, posts, websites, etc. and save these documents. Inform the child’s school of the incidents, as cyberbullies often know their victims. Become informed about the school’s bullying policy and the steps that are taken when cyberbullying is reported. If the cyberbullying included a physical threat of harm, report it immediately to your local law enforcement. Also report the cyberbullying to the digital providers.
Acknowledge your child’s pain. Watch to ensure that they are emotionally managing the hurts of cyberbullying. These can range from anger, fear, and shame to depression, betrayal, or suicidal thoughts. If you see ongoing behavioral changes, you may want to encourage your child to see a school counselor or a therapist for support.
If you witness cyberbullying, even if it doesn’t involve your child, it is important to be supportive of the victim and report it as above. Victims need to know they have a compassionate, trustworthy support network.
Take cyberbullying very seriously. No child deserves to be bullied. No family deserves the pain of watching their loved one suffer. No parent should ever have to endure the tragedy of losing a child because of bullying. By working together, educating ourselves and our children about cyberbullying, and by encouraging honest dialogue with them about their online activities, we can help keep sons and daughters safe and put an end to cyberbullying.
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