Cyberbullying is the name for bullying that takes place via the Internet, text, or email. Approximately 43 percent of teenagers have been bullied online, and a quarter of teens have had it happen more than once. Online bullying carries many of the same risks as traditional bullying, including low self-esteem, depression, and even suicide. In some ways, it’s worse than playground bullying; while bullying at school or in the neighborhood is seen only by the people in the immediate vicinity, online bullying can be very public. Parents can take steps to stop online bullying among teens. Read on for some tips on preventing cyberbullying and, if it is occurring, stopping it from continuing.
Understand What Cyberbullying Is
Cyberbullying can take place through texting, over various social media platforms, or via email. There are a lot of ways that teens have bullied others online. Sending harassing messages is one common way. Another is to write mean comments on social media posts. Some teens have even gone so far as to set up fake profile pages of their target, impersonating the victim.
Just as there are some annoying or troublesome behaviors that do not qualify as bullying, there are some things that teens might do online that don’t really qualify as cyberbullying. In order for a behavior to be considered cyberbullying, it has to take place online and be repeated, be done maliciously, and include some type of power imbalance. When it comes to bullying that’s not face-to-face, the power imbalance is usually social in nature. For example, a teen who is part of the “in crowd” might bully a teen who doesn’t have a lot of friends or who has a lower social standing.
Teach Your Teens How to Protect Themselves
While anyone can become a victim of cyberbullying, there are some steps that your teen can take that can reduce his or her risk.
1. Keep passwords private.
Teenagers do tend to share things like clothing and secrets, but they should not share passwords to any of their social media accounts. Keeping passwords private can help ensure that no one can get into a social media or email account and post potentially damaging information or photos.
2. Assume anything posted, emailed, or texted is both public and permanent.
Your teen might not think anything of texting a friend an embarrassing photo or writing something on public media that they later regret and delete, but the ability to screenshot and the immediacy of the Internet could mean that this type of material gets forwarded in the blink of an eye. Best to operate under the assumption that anything posted via digital means will be widely available and accessible even if they hit “delete.”
3. Do not engage with cyberbullies.
Rather than arguing or egging on a bully, it’s important to disengage and, if appropriate, report the behavior. Teach your teen that any reaction they have to being bullied will likely just add fuel to the fire so it’s best not to react outwardly.
Teach Your Teen How to Report Online Bullying
Let your teen know that they should act quickly if they are being bullied online. First, they should save any threatening messages or screenshot any impersonated social media posts or profiles. Next, they should block whoever is bullying them, if possible.
Your teen can report cyberbullying to the site in question. For example, they can report a fake account or cruel remarks to Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, or other platforms. If the behavior is against the terms of service, it’s possible that the cyberbully will be banned from the site.
If there is a threat of violence, child pornography, a hate crime, or your teen believes they are being stalked, it’s important to report the bullying to the local law enforcement. This is where the importance of saving evidence of the bullying behavior comes in.
Finally, cyberbullying can be reported to the school, if the online bully is a student. Even if the behavior took place off campus, many schools will have a policy for handling it. Speak to your school’s administration or, if necessary, the board of education for help.
Keep Tabs on What Your Teen Is Doing Online
Another way you can prevent your teen from being bullied online is to keep tabs on what he or she is doing. While your teen wants privacy online, it’s important to be aware of what sites they use and who they are communicating with. Of course, your involvement and supervision will be greater for a young teen than for a young adult, but it’s reasonable to have access to your minor child’s accounts so you can keep an eye on what’s going on.
If you see questionable or obvious bullying behavior, bring it up with your teen. It’s possible that they might not realize they’re being bullied or that they are embarrassed and don’t want to talk about it. Stress that it’s not their fault and that they can and should report bullying to the proper authorities. No one should be mistreated or bullied, and that extends to digital platforms.
Consult With Professionals When Necessary
Many teens who are bullied will go on to develop good social relationships and will eventually put it behind them. Others, however, will need professional help to get past any issues such as anxiety, depression, and social issues that the bullying might have caused. If you notice symptoms of depression, suicidal thoughts, or any type of anxiety, a mental health evaluation is in order. Bullying can increase the incidence of suicide attempts and completed suicide, so it’s important to take it seriously.
As a parent, you will want to do everything possible to prevent bullying, including online bullying. Keep an open line of communication with your teen and encourage them to go to you if they are concerned about behavior that they see online. Watch for the signs that your child is being bullied and don’t be afraid to seek professional help, including help from law enforcement, when needed to keep your teen physically and mentally safe.