Cyberbullying is a term that would have been unheard-of even 15 years ago. Today, as our digital presence increasingly overlaps with our everyday lives, it has become an area of major concern for many parents. Recent surveys on cyberbullying indicate that anywhere from one-fifth to one-half of all teens have experienced some form of it.
Understanding what cyberbullying is can be the first step in helping to prevent it. By definition, cyberbullying involves sending material intended to embarrass, insult, or harass another individual via social media, text, email, or instant messaging. Some forms of cyberbullying are more obvious than others. For example, a cruel reply to a Facebook post is easy to identify, but cyberbullying can also involve more subtle acts such as creating a fake profile to impersonate another person or publicly sharing information that was intended to be private.
Cyberbullying is particularly troubling for three reasons: It is persistent, it is permanent, and it is “under the radar”. Many kids have access to their smartphones or other devices 24 hours a day and are secretive about what information is stored on them. This means that kids who are being cyberbullied never get a break from it, and parents and teachers have no idea it’s happening because they never witness the bullying firsthand. Additionally, anything shared through social media or any form of electronic messaging can never be counted on to remain private; it’s part of a public, easily accessible record that can impact decisions by colleges and employers, as well as personal relationships.
What to do if you suspect Cyberbullying
If parents observe a child withdrawing socially, seeming nervous or jumpy when receiving a text or notification, acting upset after using the phone or computer, underperforming at school or “acting out” at home, or being secretive with a smartphone or other device, cyberbullying may be an issue. Parents can intervene by taking steps to:
- Limit the child’s access to technology
- Block the individual(s) who may be involved in cyberbullying
- Utilize parental controls and other safety measures on your child’s phone/device
- “Friend” or “Follow” your child on social media sites
- Talk to your child about why it’s not safe to share too much personal information online
What to do if your child is involved in Cyberbullying
- Firmly discuss the consequences of your child’s actions
- Emphasize that the behavior is not acceptable, and can be considered criminal in some cases
- Restrict access to devices and/or accounts, if possible
- Set parental controls on your child’s phone or device
- Talk to teachers or other important figures to identify why your child might be cyberbullying
- Do not be afraid to seek counseling if you feel it is in your child’s best interest