It wasn’t long ago that bullying was relegated to face-to-face interaction. This meant that, if a child was safe at home, the bully would either have to call the house phone or come to the door and get through the family. Good luck with that.
Now, cyberbullying can take place at any time, anywhere, and the victim and the bully can reside miles apart. With email, social media, texts and more, the options seem endless, and the possibility of being bullied greater than ever before.
Parents need to be aware of cyberbullying, to help prevent their children from being bullied or becoming the bully. Jake Brosius, director of youth programming with the Marion County Prosecutor’s Office and Shawn Bush, director of student services with MSD Lawrence Township, answers some questions on this important topic.
How can parents recognize cyberbullying?
Brosius: The signs of being cyberbullied are very similar to signs of in-person bullying. Children become more easily agitated or demonstrate symptoms of depression. Look for significant changes in behavior, such as a child who is normally talkative becoming suddenly silent, or a child who is normally very active not wanting to leave their room. While these signs may not point specifically to cyberbullying, they can be good indications of increased stress.
What can parents do to help prevent cyberbullying?
Bush: Monitor your child’s social media use as best you can. You wouldn’t allow your child in a physical room full of strangers without your supervision. Don’t do it online, either! Teach your child to advocate for themselves in everyday situations. Hopefully, those skills at speaking up will translate to the online environment, as well.
Also, try role play. Try some what-if scenarios, and plan what to do, or say, if your child experiences cyberbullying. Let your child know to seek help from a trusted adult if anything scary, uncomfortable or upsetting happens online, as things can spiral out of control very quickly in the virtual world.
What else should parents keep in mind?
Brosius: Parents often feel overwhelmed by social media, or by the idea of their children being online. That is perfectly understandable. However, it is not effective to deal with that feeling by attempting to ban your child from being online. Children may feel isolated from their friends or find more secretive ways to engage with the online world. Instead, make the effort to learn about the social media companies in which your child expresses interest. Being informed can better prepare a parent to explain what are good boundaries and practices, and why certain activities may or may not be allowed. If you treat the online world as a chance to learn, they will better appreciate your decisions.
Bush: Social media has created a whole new platform for bullying behavior to occur. If someone makes a single mean comment in person, that could potentially be the end of it. But with social media, that comment can be liked, commented on, and shared over and over again. So what would have been one mean comment can turn into something else very quickly. There’s an illusion of anonymity with screen talk that makes people more apt to do, or say, things online that they would never do, or say, face to face. So we must be vigilant and mindful of how our kids engage with others via social media. It’s a whole new world today.