Thinking back to when you were a child, you might remember name-calling, pushing on the playground, and someone stealing younger children’s lunch money. Nowadays, with social media one of the primary ways young people communicate with each other, it’s inevitable that some bullying will occur via these electronic platforms. When harassment, bullying, and threatening behavior takes place via the Internet, it’s called cyberbullying. Read on to find out more about this common threat, as well as tips if your teenager is involved with cyberbullying, either as a bully or as the one being bullied.
Examples and Definition of Cyberbullying
Cyberbullying, like other types of bullying, is not always clear-cut. By definition, the only thing that differentiates cyberbullying from traditional bullying is that it’s done with electronics, so it can take place via social media sites, text messages, email, chat rooms, forums, and so on. The point of bullying is to harass, threaten, embarrass or otherwise target another person.
One example of cyberbullying could be spreading lies via text about a classmate. Another could be setting up a group on Facebook that is designed to talk behind someone’s back. Someone might create a fake Instagram profile and post pictures under the victim’s name, or respond to every legitimate post with a rude or cruel comment. Sometimes rude remarks are made accidentally or just as a matter of not thinking, but if there’s a pattern of comments that could be considered mean, it’s likely a case of cyberbullying.
Why Cyberbullying Can Be Worse Than Regular Bullying
If a teen is being bullied in school, there is usually a procedure to follow to report it. StopBullying.gov suggests contacting a teacher, a guidance counselor, principal, superintendent, the State Department of Education, and, if necessary the U.S. Department of Education, to combat bullying in school. You can also call the local police to deal with physical assault and other physical forms of bullying. When it comes to cyberbullying, you as a parent may be unsure as to how to proceed… or even if you should (yes, you should!).
Another issue with cyberbullying is that it can turn into 24/7 harassment. Whereas a teen who is being bullied in school might be tormented from 8:00 am to 3:00 pm, the evenings and weekends are bully-free. This is not the case online; people can be online all hours of the day and night, 365 days per year. In this case, it might be that the bullying quite literally never ends. It also extends far past a handful of other teens; an entire school could be aware of a cyberbullying issue within a few minutes with the help of email lists, text groups and social media.
Just like other types of bullying, cyberbullying can lead to low self-esteem, depression, anxiety (including social anxiety), and even suicidal thoughts or suicide attempts. It’s very important that you try to prevent this type of bullying, stay aware of signs that it’s occurring, and know what to do if you learn of it.
Signs That Your Child Might Be Being Bullied Via the Internet
It’s natural that some teens will not speak up about cyberbullying. One reason might be the fear that they will have their own Internet privileges revoked. Another is that they might feel embarrassed about what is being said, right there in black and white, for anyone, including you and other adults, to see. It’s up to you to be vigilant for signs that something is amiss.
One of the signs that your teen might be a victim of cyberbullying is being very secretive about what he or she is doing online. It’s normal for teens to want privacy, but if they seem panicked when you borrow their phone for something or are always slamming the laptop closed when you enter the room, it’s a good idea to find out what they’re hiding. Another sign is being regularly upset, sad, or angry when using the Internet. Your phone-loving teen might suddenly start avoiding the device or might seem nervous when a text comes through.
It’s up to all parents to take some steps to prevent cyberbullying. Even if you think your child would never participate in something so cruel, it’s important to understand that mob mentality can sometimes take over, particularly with impressionable teens. Also, some teenagers might not understand the ramifications or even the definition of cyberbullying. They might see it as harmless teasing or “just having fun.”
There are some ways you can prevent your child from becoming a cyber-bully, and many of them are ways that you’d keep your kids safe online in general. One is to keep the computer in a common area of the house. A child of any age is less likely to get into mischief if he or she knows that mom or dad could look over at the screen at any time. Another is to place limits on cellphone usage. Collect everyone’s phone at a certain hour at night (this lends to better sleep, too) and place them in your bedroom or another area where they won’t be accessed in the wee hours. Also, be sure you know your child’s passwords to social media and email accounts. Let your teen know that you will respect his or her privacy but that you also need a way of accessing information if necessary. Stick to whatever agreement you make unless you have a strong suspicion that something is amiss.
If you find out that your child or another child is a victim of cyberbullying, take it seriously and find a way to stop it. Although it’s not happening in school, contact your teen’s school right away. Many schools have policies that prohibit cyberbullying, and these bullies can face consequences imposed by the school. In some states, cyberbullying can also be a type of criminal harassment. Call your local police station or an attorney to find out what your options are in terms of pressing charges to stop cyberbullying in its tracks.
Learning that your teen is the victim or the perpetrator of cyberbullying can feel devastating. Remember that it’s also devastating to your child. Get him or her the help needed to get past this. Consider therapy with a trained counselor who has experience dealing with bullying issues. Your child will need to learn to trust others again, particularly when it comes to the Internet.