Online Bullying: What to Do!
How Parents Can Prevent And Deal with It
By Ariane Robinson
It’s true, kids can be cruel. I still vividly remember the insults thrown at me by a group of “popular” girls at my junior high. Their ridicule made it hard for me to attend school, but I knew at the end of the day I would be able to escape from it and return home where I felt loved and safe.
Unfortunately, bullying today is not something that’s confined to schools or only known about by a small group like it was for me. Cruel comments can spread in a matter of seconds on social media, and children can be bombarded with messages not just at school, but in their homes at all hours of the day. Once these messages are shared, they may never be erased, and it can be hard to track down with whom they have been shared.
Cyberbullying is used to harass, threaten, humiliate, or otherwise hassle someone. It is dangerous for our children because it leads to low self-esteem, suicidal ideation, anger, frustration, and a variety of other emotional and psychological problems (Hinduja & Patchin, 2018).
As parents, this is something we must have on our radar, as it is likely our child will either be the victim of cyberbullying, have a friend who is being bullied, or be a bully themselves. Studies have shown that about one out of every four teens has experienced cyberbullying, and about one out of every six teens has done it to others (Hinduja & Patchin, 2018). Articles like The Most Dangerous Apps of 2019 can help parents be aware of apps where cyberbullying might occur. Below is a list of some signs parents can look for to help their children.
SIgns your child may be experiencing cyberbullying are if he or she:
- unexpectedly stops using their device(s)
- appears nervous or jumpy when using device(s)
- appears uneasy about being at school or outside
- appears to be angry, depressed, or frustrated after texting, chatting, using social media, or gaming
- becomes abnormally withdrawn
- avoids discussions about their activities online
Signs your child may be cyberbullying others are if he or she:
- quickly switches screens or hides their device
- uses their device(s) at all hours of the night
- gets unusually upset if they can’t use device(s)
- avoids discussions about what they are doing online
- seems to be using multiple online accounts, or an account that is not their own
In general, if a child acts in ways that are inconsistent with their usual behavior when using these devices, it is important to find out why (Hinduja & Patchin, 2018).
Experts offer these guidelines for parents and children if they are faced with a cyberbully (Smith, 2014):
- Take a screenshot or save a text message.
- Block or unfriend the bully.
- Report the bully to the website.
- Tell a trusted adult, like a family member or teacher.
What parents can do if they find out their child is the bully (Sizer, 2012):
- Find out what happened — Ask your child to tell you, in his own words, what happened and what his role was in the incident. Joel Haber, Phd says, “Kids have to take accountability for their behavior.” If your child tries to push the blame onto someone else, be firm and reiterate that you want to know what their role was in the bullying.
- Encourage empathy with the victim — After you find out what your child’s side of the story is, ask them to imagine if they were in the victim’s shoes. How would they feel if someone did the same thing to them?
- Have your child make restitution — This may be challenging if the bullying happened online. Barbara Coloroso, the author of The Bully, the Bullied and the Bystander, notes the nature of the Web means that “rumors on the Internet can be hard to fix.” In extreme cases, she recommends that cyberbullies be forced to pay for a Web scrubber, which helps bury nasty Web pages in Google search results.
- Try to get to the root cause of the bullying — Get to the bottom of what might be causing your child to be a bully. Are they looking for some type of acknowledgment, attention, or control? Do they fully understand the pain and ostracism they are causing?
- Involve the school — Keep close communication with your child’s guidance counselor and teachers. Let them know you do not support bullying, and to notify you if there is any behavior at school of which you should be made aware.
- Be a role model — Parents need to make sure their behavior is not sending a message to their child that it is ok to make someone feel bad about themselves. For example, do you gossip and spread rumors? Do you roll your eyes when you hear something you disagree with? Are you curt with salespeople? These types of parental behavior can give kids the idea that it is ok to bully others or put them down.
Parents can teach their kids about appropriate online behaviors just as they teach them about appropriate behaviors offline. Bringing Digital Citizenship Into Our Homes helps parents navigate this conversation if they are not sure where to begin. They can reinforce with their child how and why others should be treated with dignity and respect online.
It is vital that parents work to maintain an open, honest line of communication with their children, so their children will want to reach out when they experience something upsetting online. If you are looking for an easy way to begin talking to your child about cyberbullying and using tech for good, check out Noah’s New Phone: A Story About Using Technology for Good.
Ariane Robinson is the mother of five children. She is a Marriage and Family Studies major and a certified facilitator with PREPARE/ENRICH. She enjoys working with families and helping to strengthen their relationships.
Hinduja, S. & Patchin, J. W. (2018). Cyberbullying Identification, Prevention, and Response. Cyberbullying Research Center (cyberbullying.org).
Sizer, B. B. (2012, November 08). What to Do When Your Child Is a Bully. Retrieved from http://www.pbs.org/parents/education/going-to-school/social/what-to-do-when-your-child-is-a-bully/
Smith, N. C. (2014, August 19). Watch out, cyber-bullies: Kids have new tools to fight back. Retrieved from https://www.cbsnews.com/news/watch-out-cyber-bullies-kids-have-new-tools-to-fight-back/