What are signs of cyberbullying and how do you talk to children about it?
Face-to-face bullying can be scary for families, but now it's accompanied by something else: cyberbullying. Studies and rates vary, but one study showed “close to 34% of students acknowledge that they have experienced cyberbullying”.
Warning signs of cyberbullying
According to KidsHealth, Some warning signs of cyberbullying are:
- Becoming emotionally upset during or after being online.
- Being secretive or protective about what they are doing online.
- Withdrawal from family, friends, and activities.
- Avoiding school or places where friends gather.
- Grades slipping and "acting out" in anger.
- Changes in mood, behavior, sleep, or appetite.
- Decrease in the amount of time they use a computer or cellphone.
- Avoiding discussions about what they are doing online.
Ways to talk about cyberbullying
Kids and teens might be afraid to talk about cyberbullying with parents and caregivers out of fear their computer privileges will be taken away. Some tips to talk about and prevent cyberbullying are:
- Create kid-friendly and age-appropriate rules. What works for a high school student may not work for your middle schooler. All your discussions should include talks about time limits, privacy, sharing, blocking and online comments, as well as where it’s appropriate to connect online. Discover more ways to help teens understand internet safety and risks with social media.
- Make sure kids understand the online rules and what’s appropriate. There’s often a disconnect between what kids think the rules are, and what parents and caregivers say the rules are. Be clear — and enforce consequences, too.
- Keep talking about cyberbullying. Setting limits and outlining online appropriateness isn’t something that’s a one-and-done conversation. Keep talking to your kids about cyberbullying, issues friends are having, things you read about in the news, or what’s new and challenging for them online.
- Talk about blocking the bully. Social media sites, email applications, and cellphones allow you to block emails, IMs, or texts from specific people. Talk to your kids about these settings and encourage them to block those individuals they are not comfortable talking to.
- Talk about the longevity of a digital life. A child might delete a rude comment, but that doesn’t mean it goes away. Screen captures and shares can preserve regrettable statements and images forever. This potentially has very hurtful and long-term impact on everyone involved. Make it clear that information shared is never truly private or temporary.
- Find a person for your kids to turn to. A change in behavior such as surliness or secretiveness, may be a good indication that something’s happening, and it might be at that moment that your kids shut you out. Discussions of cyber safety should include a person who kids can turn to when they have issues online. Getting help is what’s most important.
- Be a good role model. It’s one thing to set rules, and it’s another thing to follow them. Practice what you preach to your kids. Follow your own rules and cultivate a polite and respectful online presence.
- Let go of what you can’t control. It’s impossible to know everything your children might see and do online. Experts say you should focus on giving kids the confidence to deal with issues they might encounter online.
Finally, be prepared and educate yourself about cyber safety along with cyberbullying. Your understanding of the issues your child might encounter will all help you better cope with questions they could have.