Internet safety is understandably a big concern for today’s parents. Predators are always a danger, but unfortunately kids also face hazards from their own peers. Despite awareness campaigns and online resources to fight the problem, cyberbullying is still a troublesome and sadly, growing issue.
There’s an old saying that "children can be cruel" and that bullying has always existed, but that doesn’t make it any more acceptable or any less harmful. And the Internet, with its anonymity and scalability, has taken bullying to frightening new levels.
The emotional damage that can be inflicted by cyberbullies can run deep and be long-lasting. In some really tragic cases, it has even contributed to child suicide. The statistics on the prevalence and effects of cyberbullying are definitely disturbing.
For parents, the hardest part is knowing if cyberbullying is going on.
How can you tell if your child is being cyberbullied? Or more concerning, how can you tell if your child might be engaging in cyberbullying? What can you as a parent do about these issues?
Here are some tips.
Signs Your Child is Being Cyberbullied
- They become sad, angry or distressed during or after using the Internet or cell phone, or appear anxious when receiving a text, IM, or email. Children can be drama queens (or kings), so it's important to learn to distinguish the normal drama from something more serious.
- They actively avoid discussions or are secretive about computer or cell phone activities. Kids are often private, and that’s normal as they strive for independence from you, but sometimes it can be a sign of something worse.
- They become suddenly withdrawn from family, friends, and once-loved personal or school activities.
- They suffer an unexplained drop in grades. Even if the cause isn’t cyberbullying, this is something you need to address.
- They show unexplained changes in mood, behavior, sleep, appetite, or any other signs of depression or anxiety. Adolescence is a battlefield of emotions that is difficult enough to deal with, but when your normally happy-go-lucky kid becomes unusually moody or anxious, these are warning signs.
Signs Your Child Might Be Cyberbullying Others
Although it emphasizes cyberbullying via desktop computers rather than smartphones and other mobile devices, the cyberbullying.us site offers a list that might be useful to help determine if your child is a cyberbully. If this is the case, the important thing is to find out and communicate with your child to get to the root of the problem.
Among the signs to watch out for:
- They quickly switch screens (or close apps) when you walk by. As noted above, kids are often secretive, but sometimes it goes beyond that.
- They use their computer or other devices at all hours of the night. The prevalence of smartphones and tablets makes it more difficult to monitor your child’s online activities, but parents need to go the extra mile and keep their eyes and ears open.
- They laugh excessively while online, but refuse to show you what caused it. Maybe your child is just watching a funny video, or it could be something more sinister.
- They become unusually upset if they are unable to get online.
- They use multiple online accounts or an account that is not his or her own.
Fortunately there are several things you can do about cyberbullying, but we have also created our own list.
A Parent's Action List1. Prevent it before it starts
Teach your kids to be both compassionate and cautious; let them know how serious cyberbullying is and that it can have severe emotional, academic, and even legal consequences. Stress that they can play a role in discouraging cyberbullying by refusing to participate in cyberbullying activities and telling their friends to abstain as well.
Teach them to think before they post and never put anything online that they wouldn't want their classmates to see. Instruct them to never post or share overly personal information to their friends online, and never share their Internet passwords with anyone except you.
Encourage your child to talk to you about their online activities, and try not to be judgmental. They may not be 100% forthcoming, but at least you will have opened a line of communication.2. If there seems to be a problem, first talk to your child
The direct approach is always best. No matter how reticent your child is, their life may literally depend upon your getting to the bottom of the problem. It sounds dramatic, but consider the horror stories – those parents certainly would agree.
Ask your child if she or he is being bullied – or is bullying another – but be compassionate, not confrontational or demanding. Kids need to know you’re on their side and are their first line of defense against bullying3. If classmates are the cyberbullies, talk to your child’s school
Most schools have codes that deal with bullying, including cyberbullying. Document everything and go to the administrators of your child’s school, working your way up the chain of command as necessary. The STOMP Out Bullying site offers an action list that can help ensure you have all of your bases covered and that you don’t make the situation worse.4. Talk to a lawyer if necessary
This should be a last resort, for several reasons. There are far too many frivolous lawsuits as it is, and a lawsuit could have serious consequences for the accused and even the accuser. However, sometimes it is a matter for the courts. For instance, in the United States there are state and federal laws regarding cyberbullying.
If you cannot get a satisfactory response from the school and/or other involved parties, talk to a lawyer, even if your child is the cyberbully.5. Use technology to monitor your child’s online activities
This can be part of the “prevention” plan mentioned in Step 1 above, but it can also help mitigate an existing problem and help ensure that the situation doesn’t get totally out of hand. When it comes to keeping your child safe online, parental control software can be your best friend.
Cyberbullying is everyone’s problem, but you—and your child—can be part of the solution.
Has your child ever been a victim of cyberbullying? How did you first learn about it, and what did you do to stop it? What other tips would you recommend to parents to help protect their kids against bullying? Leave a comment below.