Staying Strong Against Cyberbullying
Written by: Joshua Blazen
What does bullying look like during the age of online school? Today, many children have access to social media accounts, cell phones, and the internet. These online platforms have created a new type of bully: the cyber-bully.
What is Cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying is any teasing, intimidation, or harassment that occurs outside of school hours via social media or other technology. Roughly 10-40% of school-age students will experience cyberbullying at some point. The experience of cyberbullying is different for each student. Some cyberbullied children may be flooded with “spam” messages from bullies, some may have embarrassing rumors or photos spread by bullies through social media, and some may receive threatening or intimidating messages from bullies. Since cyberbullies can set up anonymous online accounts, cyberbullying victims do not always know who their bullies are. For this reason, cyberbullying can be more frequent and more difficult to avoid than traditional bullying. More time online with digital learning may increase both opportunities and impacts of cyberbullying.
What are some warning signs of cyberbullying?
Here are some warning signs that your child may be experiencing cyberbullying:
• They become upset, sad, or angry after spending time online or on their phone. This may be a reaction to experiencing some kind of digital harassment. It may lead to decreased interest in digital activity. Current requirements for increased online learning and online homework completion can unintentionally enhance a student’s discomfort.
• They become socially withdrawn. Cyberbullying can make a child more self-conscious, and this can make them avoid social situations where they might be judged.
• They go to great lengths to hide their screens when you enter the room. Children often feel shame about experiencing bullying and may try to hide it from their family members.
• They appear more down or sad than usual. This may include losing interest in activities they once enjoyed. If your child experiences a sudden downturn in mood without a clear cause, you may want to get some more information to see if cyberbullying could be the cause.
• They suddenly want to avoid school. If a child who normally loves school suddenly starts dreading going to school, this could be a cause for concern. It may be that the child wants to avoid seeing their cyberbullies as much as possible. Some children may even use feeling sick as a reason to stay home or stay offline. They may refuse to turn on their camera during online learning. If this is the case, you may want to gather more information to see if your child is experiencing cyberbullying.
How can I protect my child from cyberbullying?
• Make sure your child knows that you are ready to listen. If your child talks to you about being a victim of cyberbullying, be supportive and non-judgmental. Some children feel like it is their fault for experiencing bullying and they can feel ashamed to tell their parents for this reason. Make sure your child knows that they are loved and appreciated no matter what.
• Talk to your child’s teacher if you believe your child is experiencing cyberbullying. Teachers don’t always know when cyberbullying is happening, so it may be helpful to bring it to their attention. Ask if the teacher would consider talking to the class about cyberbullying in a way that doesn’t specifically identify or target your child as a victim. Your child’s teacher may even have a specific anti-bullying curriculum in mind!
• Help your child come up with some strategies to avoid cyberbullies. You may want to help your child limit their technology and social media time by agreeing on a technology-use schedule. An online schedule can reduce the amount of time they are exposed to cyberbullying. You could create a tech space in the house that is more public so your child feels as though you are part of the online experience and can intervene on their behalf. Additionally, you may want to show your child how to block cyberbullies’ phone numbers and social media accounts.
What should I do if my child is cyberbullying others?
• Help your child come up with more acceptable ways to solve conflicts. Children often resort to teasing or bullying to get revenge. Make sure that your child knows they can come to you for advice when they have disputes with others.
• Gather more information. Your child’s teacher may be able to shed some light on any conflicts your child has with other children. Talk to your child to learn more about why they are bullying others. Some children may bully others to cope with stress or other negative feelings.
• Talk with your child about feelings. Help your child understand the way that bullying makes others feel. Help your child come up with acceptable ways to express their feelings.
For more resources for caregivers, visit the Cyberbullying Research Center website: https://cyberbullying.org/resources/parents
More recommendations for caregivers from ConnectSafely:https://www.connectsafely.org/cyberbullying/
To report chronic or severe instances of cyberbullying and harassment:https://www.cybersmile.org/advice-help/category/who-to-call