Hi-Tech Bullying: What Can Parents Do
By Marina Spears
“Brows.” That was the name I was given upon my arrival to a new school at the age of eleven. I won’t deny that my eyebrows were a healthy size and I had no idea how to change them, but it didn’t make the “nickname” any less painful. It still made my stomach hurt every time the boys approached me laughing, or when my classmates called me “Brows” rather than my real name.
Fast-forward to the present: Now imagine those boys have cell phones or an iPod. They snap a pic, include a caption with the “nickname” and send it to the whole school. Soon I start getting teased via text messages day and night. Kids start posting things about me and my eyebrows all over social media and apps–all of it completely out of my control and way beyond the walls of my school.
I can only imagine what that kind of bullying would feel like.
Our kids don’t have to imagine it: many of them live in this reality. In fact, one in three kids experience some form of cyberbullying in the academic year, yet only 15% will report it (Tulane University School of Social Work, 2018). Sarah McCarroll, MS, a Pennsylvania school psychologist of 18 years, spoke about this with EEK in a recent interview. She emphasized how important it is for parents to recognize how relentless cyberbullying can be and how devastating it is to kids today.
Online communication is a powerful force in our children’s lives, and they view it with great importance. McCarroll described it as “their native language.” Tweens and teens today are considered “digital natives” meaning they have grown up in the age of digital technology. Online communication comes naturally to them, and often it is their preferred method of communicating with friends. We as parents are the “digital immigrants.” We need to make sure we are learning the language. Our children are the best teachers. If we don’t understand something, we can just ask them. Questions for help with social media are great conversations starters.
Cyberbullying takes on many forms, and with only 15% of youth reporting it, parents need to be aware of how our kids can be targeted, such as:
- Posting cruel comments on social media (Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter)
(United States Government, n.d.)
- Threats of physical violence and/or encouraging suicide (most common in texts)
- Posting photos/videos to either make fun or expose personal and sometimes explicit information (Ask.fm and other anonymous websites)
- Pretending to be someone else to gain private information then posting the information online (Facebook, KiK, texting)
- “Flaming” – making mean and hurtful comments to one person in an online group chat
- “Exclusion” – purposely ignoring one member of a group chat, in a purposeful public shunning
- “Doxing,” where one acquires personal information such as address, phone numbers etc., and then posts the information online (online gaming accounts)
How do we protect our kids?
McCarroll stressed the importance of taking cyberbullying seriously. Parents should not downplay or minimize the effects. Since so few will actually admit to being cyberbullied, parents need to pick up on signs that it could be occurring. Some warning signs:
- A sudden drop in online use
- Increased anxiety and mood swings
- Drop in academic performance
- Isolating behavior, dropping out of usual social activities
If you believe your child may be a victim of cyberbullying, it is important to communicate your concerns to your child, keeping in mind that confronting the situation can create intense fear and stress for them. It is crucial to provide a support system and resources your child can rely upon, with you at the forefront.
If cyberbullying is affecting your child, our book, 30 Days to a Stronger Child. It provides lessons, discussion topics, and activities to help kids develop and build resilience and in the process strengthen your relationship.
Need more ideas for talking to kids about bullying and using tech for good? Check out Noah’s New Phone: A Story about Using Technology for Good.
Marina Spears received her Bachelor of Science in Marriage and Family Studies from BYU Idaho. She runs the student guidance program at the Summit School of the Poconos, and facilitates a support group for families of addicts. She is also a contributing writer and editor at Educate and Empower Kids. She is the mother of five children and loves to spend time with her family.
Sarah McCarroll, M.S. earned her degree from the University of Pennsylvania, has been a school psychologist for 18 years, working with students at the junior high and high school levels for much of her career. She is married to a high school teacher/coach and is the mother of 3 children, who are also at the junior high and high school levels. She believes in advocating for students with disabilities and their families through teamwork with wonderful educators. She is a co-founder of STARs, a program targeting at-risk girls, to reduce girl/girl violence by promoting positive sisterhood.
Tulane University School of Social Work. (2018). 2018 Guide to Cyberbullying Awareness. Retrieved from Tulane University School of Social Work: https://socialwork.tulane.edu/blog/cyberbullying-awareness-guide
United States Government. (n.d.). What is Cyberbullying. Retrieved from Stopbullying.gov: https://www.stopbullying.gov/cyberbullying/what-is-it/index.html