Online bullying, also called cyberbullying, is becoming an epidemic. Over half of teens have been bullied online, with a third of them having experienced cyberthreats and a quarter having been bullied repeatedly through their cell phones. Cyberbullying is a type of bullying that takes place via electronic media or the Internet. Unfortunately, half of teens who are cyberbullied don’t tell their parents. Read on for ways to protect your teen from online bullying.
1. Know the Facts About Online Bullying
Since most teens use smartphones, that makes it a popular medium for all sorts of communication, including online bullying. Most teens say that online bullying is a problem, and the vast majority say that online bullying is easier to get away with than other types of bullying.
Because it’s such a prevalent problem, it’s important to know what cyberbullying is and how it can manifest. Some examples include:
- Sending repeated emails for the sake of harassing or intimidating someone
- Posting cruel or mean things on social media profiles
- Distributing unflattering or embarrassing photos of someone else via text
- Impersonating someone online
2. Teach Your Teen Not to Give Out Personal Information
While most cyberbullying is done by people the victim knows, such as classmates or club members, it’s wise to teach your teen not to give out his or her real name, address, town, school, or cell phone number to people that they don’t know. Teens should also know to give out their passwords to anyone other than a parent. Finally, real names should not be used for most web forums (classroom-based forums are an exception); instead, encourage your teen to choose a username that won’t identify them as an individual.
3. Remember This Mantra: The Internet Is Forever
Many teens still struggle remembering that anything sent digitally or posted on the Internet is potentially both public and permanent. While it’s easy to delete images and posts, it’s just as easy to take a screenshot and forward it to a dozen (or many more) other people. Your teen needs to understand that texting something to one friend could result in it being forwarded to an entire class. Therefore, they shouldn’t be posting or sending out anything private or potentially embarrassing.
4. Encourage Your Teen to Block Cyberbullies
Most platforms and digital communication methods have a way to block people who are bothering, harassing, or otherwise bullying others. Blocking a bully is one way to stop them from getting the feedback and reaction they are looking for. If that’s not possible on a particular platform, encourage your teen to not respond directly to anything they say or do online.
5. Learn How to Report Cyberbullying
First, if your teen comes to you and says that they’re being bullied online, encourage them to screenshot or otherwise document everything. This is because the bully might take down or delete incriminating posts. Individual posts or a fake account can usually be reported to the social media platform that they’re on. This will prompt the platform to ban the offender, in some cases.
Certain types of bullying, particularly hate speech, child pornography, and threatening violence, might be crimes. In this case, you can encourage your teen to report the bullying to the local authorities. Also, many school districts have policies against any type of bullying, including that which happens off school grounds.
6. Know What Your Teen Is Doing Online
One way you can protect your teen from online bullying is to know what they are doing online. For younger teens, it’s appropriate to have them use their devices in the public areas of the home. You might also check their phones periodically to find out which sites they’re using and who they’re texting with. It’s perfectly acceptable to place boundaries on which sites they’re allowed to use.
Older teens generally need more privacy, but as the parent of a minor child, you can certainly insist on having the right to check their phone at any time. Some parents use apps that monitor what their kids are doing online; this is something to consider and talk about with your teen.
7. Learn the Signs That Your Child Is Being Bullied Online
Many children and teenagers won’t volunteer information that they’re being cyberbullied. It’s important to be aware of the signs that they are having trouble with a bully, online or off. Here are some signs that someone might be involved with online bullying:
- Losing interest in activities and friends that they used to enjoy.
- Not wanting to go to school.
- Seems nervous or upset when using his or her computer or phone.
- Insomnia and/or having trouble eating.
- Physical symptoms like unexplained stomach aches or headaches.
- Spending all of his or her time online.
- Refusing to spend any time online.
If you notice these symptoms in your child, talk to them about whether they are being bullied.
8. Learn the Signs of Depression
In some cases, online bullying can cause depression. In severe cases, depression can lead to suicide. Know the symptoms of depression and suicidal thinking and seek professional help if you suspect that this is a problem.
- Sadness or hopelessness, particularly if it lasts longer than two weeks or if it interferes with daily life.
- Failing in school or refusing to go to school.
- A loss of interest in activities and friends.
- Isolating him- or herself from family members and friends.
- Crying and tearfulness.
- Uncharacteristic anger or irritability.
- Talking about death and dying.
- Trying to procure a weapon and making final arrangements as if planning a death.
These are all symptoms that should be brought to the attention of a physician or mental health counselor.
9. Seek Professional Help If Necessary
Some teens who are victims of online bullying develop depression, anxiety, or low self-esteem. A few will attempt or complete suicide. It’s important to take it seriously if your teen is being cyberbullied and is having a hard time coping. If you notice any of the symptoms of depression listed above or you have concerns, make an appointment with your teen’s family doctor or a mental health counselor.