How to talk to your kids about cyberbullying
The signs of cyberbullying and how to talk to children about it.
Face-to-face bullying can be hurtful and scary for families, but now it's accompanied by cyberbullying and can be equally as devastating for children, teens and even adults. Cyberbullying generally takes place over digital devices like cell phones, tablets, computers and other devices. It is generally conducted through text, various mobile applications, online in social media, forums, shared online gaming communities and other forums where others can view content, share content and participate.
What is cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying is when a person uses tech devices and apps such as phones, tablets, computers and social media to hurt other people. It is intentional and continuous. It is common in kids, teenagers and young adults and can also happen in adulthood. Usually cyberbullies will intimidate, attack or harass others using the internet. As stated by Understood.org, here are some examples of cyberbullying behavior:
- Being mean to others by text, email or instant message.
- Sending several neutral messages to the same person with the purpose of harassing.
- Use of social media to be hurtful to others.
- Using online channels to spread rumors about others.
- Creation of a fake online profile and pretending to be someone else.
- Use of embarrassing videos or pictures of someone without the person's permission and sharing/posting it online.
- Online threats and intimidation (via online messaging or text).
Warning signs of cyberbullying
As of 2019, the Centers for Disease Control noted that, approximately 15.7% of ninth- to 12th-grade students claim they have been bullied electronically, compared to 14.9% in 2017.
According to KidsHealth, some warning signs of cyberbullying are:
- Becoming emotionally upset during or after being on the phone or 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 cell phone.
- Avoiding discussions about what they are doing online.
What to do when cyberbullying happens
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 school child. 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. Often there is 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 cell phones 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 a 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.
It is important to document and report if your child is involved in cyberbullying. You should take screen shots of posts and alert the school if it's another student. Always make a report to the social media platform as well.
Finally, be prepared and educate yourself about cyber safety along with cyberbullying. Your understanding of the issues your child might encounter may help you better cope with questions they could have.