Cyberbullying: It’s defined as bullying that takes place via the Internet, email, texting, social media, or other electronic media. It’s something that, for the most part, today’s parents of teenagers didn’t deal with during their own adolescence. It can be difficult for a parent to know what to do when cyberbullying affects their child. They might also not know what to say or how to approach a teen who is becoming a cyberbully. Here’s your primer on what teen cyberbullying is, how you can prevent it, and what you can do if you find out that your teen is involved with the practice.
Behaviors Defined (and Not Defined) as Cyberbullying
Just as bullying can encompass a wide range of behaviors, the same can be said about cyberbullying. There are also behaviors that might look like cyberbullying but turn out to be just teasing or a lack of social awareness. When something is conveyed through a digital platform, there are usually not facial expressions and body language to put the words into perspective. Therefore, it can be hard to tell whether something is or is not cyberbullying.
In order for a behavior to qualify as bullying, it has to be repeated over time, it has to involve unwanted actions, and it has to involve a real or perceived power imbalance. With cyberbullying, the power imbalance generally has to do with social standing or the size of a group, because there’s not usually a physical power component as there is with physical bullying. For example, if a student from the “popular crowd” creates a fake social media platform with the intent of impersonating a student of a lower social status, that would qualify as cyberbullying. So would repeated texts or instant messages denigrating the teen. One teen writing a mean text to another one time is not typically considered cyberbullying.
Ramifications of Teen Cyberbullying
Just like with any other type of bullying, cyberbullying can causes emotional distress. The person being bullied might feel depressed, anxious, and socially inept. They might try to figure out what they are doing wrong to deserve such treatment. In some cases, cyberbullying can spark physical bullying when the teens are in physical proximity to one another. Sometimes, this type of bullying can cause a teen to have suicidal thoughts and even attempt or complete suicide.
Legally, cyberbullying often contains criminal components and those who are participating in it might be found guilty of a crime. Each state makes its own rules, and in some states, schools get involved and discipline those involved with cyberbullying. You can check the rules and laws in your state at StopBullying.gov.
Signs That a Teen Is Being Affected by Cyberbullying
If your teen is being bullied via the Internet, he or she might not want to talk about it. The very nature of cyberbullying makes it public, and many teens are embarrassed and don’t want their parents to read or see the statements made. They might also be afraid that their parents will use a variation of “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” It’s important that you don’t take this stance; cyberbullying really does hurt teens and it should not be brushed off as harmless or “kids will be kids.”
Some of the signs that your teen is being cyberbullied include:
- Sadness or moodiness beyond what is normal for that individual.
- Symptoms of anxiety.
- Symptoms of depression.
- Talking about suicide or other signs of suicidal ideation.
- Refusal or reluctance to go to school.
- Spending too much time online or avoiding spending time online.
- Avoiding friends and social outings.
- Getting upset after reading texts or being online.
Setting Good Boundaries to Prevent Teen Cyberbullying
One way that you can prevent teen cyberbullying is to set reasonable boundaries when it comes to your teenager and Internet usage. It’s natural that over the course of the teenage years, more and more privacy is granted when it comes to smartphones, tablets, computers, and other devices. During the high school years, however, you should have some idea what is going on with your teen when they’re online.
You might choose to retain all of your teen’s passwords with the stipulation that you have the right to check his or her texts or social media accounts at any time. Checking in occasionally can allow you to see what’s going on. Of course, all teens know how to delete incriminating or embarrassing information. There are some apps that will send texts and other communication directly to your phone so you can see them in real time. Use your discretion as to whether this is something you feel is necessary for your teen.
Talking to Your Teen About Cyberbullying
The most important thing you can do to prevent a wide range of negative ramifications of Internet use, including teen cyberbullying, is to have frank discussions with your teens. Let them know what cyberbullying is and that you expect they will never take part as a bully. Also let them know that they can and should come to you if they are being bullied. Bring up various examples of bullying behavior so they understand that repeated text messages meant to harass someone, name-calling via group chat, and other activities count as bullying and might even be against the law.
What to Do If Your Teen Is Being Cyberbullied
If your teen is being bullied, first find out if they are in any physical danger. Have threats been made? Has your teen’s contact information been made public? If so, file a complaint with your local police department. Regardless, you should also contact the school if the person or people bullying your teen are students there. They might have their own discipline procedures in place.
For a teen who is struggling emotionally from being cyberbullied, counseling is in order. A therapist can help your teen work out what has happened and help them overcome depression, anxiety, and whatever feelings they have to process.
Keeping your teen safe might require that you block him or her from visiting certain sites. If the bullying was done via text, a new phone number (that your teen is warned to keep private except for a few close friends and family members) might be a solution. Your teen can report abusive messages sent via social media platforms to the platform in question.
No one wants to learn that their child is being bullied, and parents may feel particularly helpless when it comes to teen cyberbullying. Taking the steps to understand what it is, how to prevent it, and how to react if you find that it’s happening to your child will help you stay more in control and will set a good example to your teen on how to handle this type of behavior.