With tablets, smartphones, apps, streaming services, gaming devices and social media at their fingertips, teens and tweens have the potential to be overwhelmed with the digital world. And sadly, quite possibly harmed by it, as well.
One of those harms parents hope to help their child avoid is cyberbullying. According to the website stopbullying.gov, “Cyberbullying can occur through SMS, text, and apps, or online in social media, forums, or gaming where people can view, participate in, or share content. Cyberbullying includes sending, posting, or sharing negative, harmful, false, or mean content about someone else. It can include sharing personal or private information about someone else causing embarrassment or humiliation. Some cyberbullying crosses the line into unlawful or criminal behavior.” In other words, all those things we don’t want our children caught up in. So, we need to educate ourselves about our children’s online presence.
Cyberbullying Warning Signs
Some of the things parents can be on the lookout for in their children are changes in behavior, social withdrawal, academic decline, and physical symptoms such as weight loss or gain, changes in sleep patterns, anxiety, depression, anger, violent outbursts or plans for revenge, a sudden desire to change something about their physical appearance, a lack of interest in maintaining physical hygiene, substance abuse, suicidal ideation or self harm.
Because of the nature of cyberbullying, with the potential of 24 hour access on electronic devices, kids who are being bullied can find it hard to escape their bully and may feel that no place is safe for them — even the comfort of their own home. This feeling of never being able to escape the bully can exasperate the physical, emotional and social symptoms.
Children may not be quick to tell their parents about what is happening for fear of being further ostracized or bullied. They also may feel fear as a result of threats that the person bullying them would physically harm them if they expose the behavior.
In addition to feeling fear, children who are being bullied may possibly feel shame about what is happening to them, especially if the bullying is of an inappropriate or sexual nature. This is another reason parents need to be on the lookout for any changes of behavior, and if they notice changes, to begin the process of investigating the possibility of cyberbullying.
What You Can Do
If you think it’s possible your child is being cyberbullied, there are things you can do.
If you feel your child will open up to you, ask them directly if something is happening. Be sure they know you are their advocate and you want to help them through this.
Reassure them that what is happening is not their fault and they will not be in trouble for telling you the truth. Some bullies make their victims believe they will be in trouble for what is being done to them. Assure your child that this is absolutely not the case.
Another way to find out if your child is being bullied is to go through their electronic devices and check all their accounts: email, texts, chat rooms, game systems, etc. You can also sign up for parental monitoring apps that help parents find out about any bullying that may occur. On these apps, parents can track and monitor SMS, calls, texts and emails. Parents will also receive alerts on suicidal indications and cyberbullying. In addition, these sites can be a wonderful tool for communication about cyberbullying. As parents explain to their children about what the site is monitoring, they are able to develop and teach anti-cyber self defense. Some apps parents can look into are Qustodio, NetCut, DNSFilter and ReThink.
Start the Conversation Now
We want to think our children are immune to the world of cyberbullying, and we hope that is the case. But the reality is, many children are affected at some point in their lives by this form of abuse. It’s important we start having conversations with our children early on about the proper ways to use electronics, and that they understand what they put into the electronic world will remain forever. Because not only do we want to prevent our children from being the victims of cyberbullying, we also want to prevent them from being the bully.
If you feel your child is being bullied, consider finding them a professional they can talk to about their experiences. This may also empower them with tools if they are ever faced with this experience again. And sometimes, it is important to get parents, teachers, administrators and quite possibly even law enforcement involved.