Bullying has always been a problem amongst children, however, these days there’s a new threat impacting young people around the globe – cyberbullying.
It leaves victims feeling vulnerable, powerless, humiliated, exposed, lonely, anxious, isolated and overwhelmed. In the long term, it can result in victims losing interest in their education, their social interactions and even their life overall, and depression can be the result. In the most extreme cases, cyberbullying has had fatal consequences. So, what can parents do to resolve the problem? How can they spot the signs of this epidemic?
Cyberbullying – What Is It?
Cyberbullying is a term used to describe a case of someone using technology to threaten, harass, target or embarrass someone else. Occasionally, it can be easy to see when the perpetrator sends a text, Facebook post or tweet. All too often, however, it’s hidden away in private messages and this means that the victim is left to deal with the consequences by themselves. Many young people are very reluctant to tell someone that they are being bullied and this makes it very difficult to know for sure just how many children and teens are currently affected.
Sometimes, cyberbullying happens accidentally. Texts, emails, and IMs are impersonal in nature and this makes it easy to misinterpret the tone of the sender. However, when repeated posts or messages attack an individual directly on the most personal level, they can only be deemed to be online harassment.
Some classic cyberbullying examples include:
- Unkind texts
- Harsh emails
- Spreading or starting rumors about somebody online
- Sharing or posting embarrassing videos or pictures of somebody without their knowledge or permission
- Pretending to be someone else online or setting up a fake profile
- Creating a cruel website to attack someone
One of the greatest issues associated with cyberbullying is the ability to forward messages, photos, and videos to a much wider audience. This means that rumors can be spread more quickly, embarrassing images can be exchanged with ease and secrets or personal information can be shared in seconds. This means that just one episode of cyberbullying can have major long-lasting consequences, with the bully having a considerable amount of power over their target simply by having the capacity to reach such an extensive audience.
What Are The Statistics?
As already mentioned, it’s hard to know precisely how many young people are affected by cyberbullying however there have been a number of reports which show worrying figures. Some studies have shown that as many as 80% of teenagers who go online have been the victim of cyberbullies although the true figures are probably closer to 20%. One important fact about cyberbullying, however, is that it is associated with bullying in person.
A study carried out by UCLA showed that 85% of people who experienced bullying online also experienced bullying offline in school too. This means that addressing the cyberbullying trend is very important in minimizing bullying in real life situations for young victims.
What Is Causing The Rise In Cyberbullying?
Many people blame computers and cell phones for the rise in cyberbullying today. While social media has a number of positive aspects, like being able to connect with family and friends, it is also often used to hurt others. Cyberbullying often occurs because being hidden behind a device or computer screen allows people to say anything they like without fear of recrimination. Of course, bullying has long been an issue among young people so it is only natural that adolescents today will adapt their bullying style to suit the technology which is currently available. It is simply unfortunate that the advances in technology open to teens today make it much easier to harass and target other people due to its more anonymous nature.
How Do I Know If My Child Is A Victim of Cyberbullying?
Unfortunately, it isn’t always obvious when a young person is a victim of cyberbullying. However, there are a number of signs to look out for. If your child is suddenly reluctant to use their cell phone or to use the internet when previously they had been perfectly happy to use such technology, this is a clear indicator of a problem. There are other signs too. Avoiding talking about their online activities, mood swings, depression, a change in weight or eating habits, aloofness, increasing isolation and a sudden disinterest in activities and in school could all point towards a cyberbullying problem. Another possible sign of an issue could be if your child closes down their browser, shuts their laptop or turns off their cell phone whenever you walk into the room. Although this could be an indicator of another issue like a potentially unsuitable relationship.
Here is a quick checklist of signs that your adolescent could be a victim of cyberbullying:
- Being unusually quiet or upset after using the internet or their phone
- Being emotionally withdrawn
- Suddenly being protective of their computer or phone
- Becoming more secretive
- Suddenly become disinterested in formerly enjoyed sports or social activities
- Being reluctant to attend school
- Slipping grades or decreased focus on studies
- A change in behavior, appetite, mood or sleep patterns
- Being ill more often – this may be genuine or be an excuse in order to avoid the bullies
- Suddenly stopping using social media
- Behaving in a nervous way if they receive an email, text or IM
- Avoiding talking about bullying
Remember that if your son or daughter has access to a cell phone or a computer they are at risk of cyberbullying, so vigilance is important.
What Should I Do If I Think My Child Is The Victim Of Cyberbullying?
If you’ve spotted some of the above signs and think your son or daughter is being harassed over the internet or via their cell phone, it’s important to raise the issue with your teenager. In fact, it’s always best to talk about cyberbullying before you notice any signs since this will open up the discussion and make it easier for your teen to approach you for help should a problem arise.
When someone is a victim of cyberbullies, they are very vulnerable. Therefore, having the right response to your teen is vital. For a start, you need to listen to what they have to say with no blame or judgment. It’s important to tell your child that you appreciate their openness on the subject and give them the reassurance that they need that you won’t prevent them from going online but are simply there to listen and help. Many young people refuse to open up about cyberbullying because they’re afraid that their parents will stop them from accessing the internet or using their cell phone. This is why it’s essential to tell your child that this won’t happen.
You should acknowledge the pain that your teen is experiencing. Help them to recognize that the actions of cyberbullies aren’t any reflection on things they’ve done – it’s the bully’s fault, not their own. Whatever you do, you shouldn’t take any action or say anything which could alienate your son or daughter further by embarrassing, confusing or angering them.
While it might be tempting to tell your child to just ignore the bullies, it’s best not to say this since it isn’t always as simple as that.
It’s best to start by asking about the length of time that the cyberbullying has been going on, and the number of people involved. They may be willing to tell you names but if not, it’s best not to push the issue at first. Above all, be patient – it’s important to allow your teen to open up in their own time. You can ask if they’d be happy to share the comments or messages with you but be prepared for them to say no. Nevertheless, however, you should encourage your teenager to print out or save examples of the messages so that they are properly documented should further action need to be taken in the future.
You should also ask your child if they have retaliated in any way. It’s important to remind them you won’t be angry if they have lashed out at the bullies but they need to be honest with you. Explain to them that, while we all say and do things we may regret if we’re afraid or confused, it’s best to stay as calm as possible to avoid doing or saying anything which could get them into trouble.
The Next Steps
Once you’re aware of the problem, it’s important to assess whether your child needs some support and, if so, how to achieve that goal. Don’t simply wait and hope the cyberbullying will stop – this is unlikely to happen.
First, report the bullying behavior and the bully themselves to any website on which bullying has occurred then block the bully from contacting your son or daughter again. Social media apps and sites today have an easy way to report harassment and users who are causing problems. Not only will this cut down the attacks on your child, it will also empower them. You should also speak to your son or daughter’s cell phone provider and ask for a new number. If you explain the reason for this many providers supply a new number for free.
Next, ask your teen to tighten the privacy and security settings on all their social media profiles, then encourage them to cut back on their list of followers or friends. They should limit it only to their own friends and to friends of those they know and trust.
If your son or daughter is still in school, consider speaking to the principal. School staff should provide some support for your teen and you’ll also have the chance to familiarize yourself with the bullying policies the school have in place. If the cyberbully is also attending the school, the principal may be able to intervene and take action.
If your child is the victim of severe bullying off school property, it may be worth talking to the police. In some cases, cyberbullying is actually a crime and can have serious consequences for the perpetrators in the most extreme cases.
You should take the time to make sure your child has a secure and safe environment at home. While you may be tempted to take away their cell phone or computer, this is counterproductive. Instead, work together with your child to ensure they are safe online and reassure them that you’re there to help if you’re needed. It helps to increase your quality family time and encouraging your child to strengthen their friendships with those they trust is beneficial too. In some cases, consulting a therapist or counselor may be necessary.
Can Cyberbullying Be Stopped?
Cyberbullying is a relatively new problem, but it is already being recognized as a major issue among young people today. Since bullying has been a problem for generations, it’s unrealistic to think that cyberbullying can be prevented and stopped completely. However, it’s possible to reduce the problem by taking the right approach to internet and cell phone use with your son or daughter. By being aware of the signs of cyberbullying, it’s possible to nip a problem with your teen in the bud before it gets out of hand. Having an open discussion with your teenager is the first step towards resolving an issue with cyberbullying and reassuring your son or daughter that they won’t lose their internet or cell phone privileges if they report that they are a victim of online bullies will help him or her to feel able to discuss their concerns and tell you about any problems they are experiencing.
Although cyberbullying is a distressing issue for the victims, it is something which can be addressed and resolved. As a parent, it’s your duty to support and reassure your child, giving them the tools that they need to empower and protect themselves from any threats that they may encounter in the online sphere.
If your child is dealing with the harmful aftereffects of cyberbullying, please reach out to Beachside Teen Treatment Center to find out how our facility can help your family.