A Parent’s Guide to Cyberbullying-How to Spot it and What to do
Cyberbullying is defined as using the internet or other technology to harass, embarrass, threaten, or target another person. Bullying of any type can have severe and long lasting effects on children. Research has shown that children who are bullied are more likely to do poorly in school, and to suffer from low self esteem, anxiety, and depression. They may also become aggressive in an attempt to protect themselves and engage in self-destructive behaviors such as alcohol, drug abuse, and self-injury.
At one time, a bullied child could find shelter and respite from a bully at home. However, that is no longer the case as technology and the internet allow bullies to target individuals 24/7.
Because children are often embarrassed or fearful, they do not always confide in their parents about being the target of a bully. So, how can parents know if his or her child is being cyberbullied? Here are some signs that your child is being bullied:
Withdrawal from family, friends and social circle
Becoming emotional after using cell phone or internet
Drop in grades
Change in mood, sleep, or eating habits
Secretive with use of computer or cell phone
Withdrawal from social activities or hobbies
HOW YOU CAN HELP
- ACTIVE LISTENING AND VALIDATION : Children who are bullied tend to feel isolated and powerless. You should initiate and encourage conversation with your child. This is the first step in getting your child to open up and discuss what is happening. Being heard and validated is essential in helping your child feel empowered. You should label the behavior as “bullying” and should neither minimize what she is going through, nor overreact as she may shut down or stop talking about the bullying.
- PROBLEM SOLVE: Reassure your child that it is not their fault and you will help them solve this problem. For their health and well being, children need to know that there is a solution and an end to this problem. With your child and the school community, begin to formulate a plan of action to address the cyberbullying. Parents need to be as objective as possible. Often a parent’s own experiences of being bullied as a child get in the way of solving the situation for their child. Remember to check you own feelings and try to remain as calm and clear headed as possible.
- DOCUMENT THE CYBERBULLY: It is helpful when addressing school officials that you have a record of actual text messages, emails or other social media documentation of the bullying. This validates what is happening to your child and gives credibility to your concerns. Children should be discouraged from responding to an email or text message from the bully. Instead, have your child save and print any incident of bullying. Encourage your child to bring all incidents of bullying to an adults attention.
- ELECTRONICALLY BLOCK THE BULLY: Children who are bullied are encouraged to block/unfriend/unfollow the bully from all social media sites. In addition, children should be reminded of the importance of cyber security and not share any passwords or personal information with others.
- NOTIFY SCHOOL OFFICIALS: Don’t feel that you have to face this problem alone. You should consider teachers and principals to be allies in your child’s well-being and safety. Schedule a meeting with the principal to discuss what is happening to your child. In the school community, bullying is looked upon negatively and school officials take it very seriously. Bring along any documentation you may have, such as emails, text messages and any other anecdotal evidence. With school officials, implement a system to provide a “safe person” for your child to talk with during the school day if a problem arises.
- IMPLEMENT A PLAN: In an effort to have your child regain their confidence and self-worth, develop strategies to give her when confronted by a bully. Encourage her to stand up for herself by addressing the situation but not overreacting to the bully. Promote walking away and finding other people to socialize with. Involve your child in other activities in which she may have an interest in, and may excel at outside the school setting.
- CHECK IN: Check in with your child to see how things are going; use bullying as an opportunity to grow your relationship. For a child, knowing she is loved and that her safety and well-being are a priority is fundamental to building a strong and trusting parent-child relationship. Adversity in childhood can often be an opportunity for an individual to grow and become stronger.
Children who are the victims of cyberbullying can grow into strong confident individuals if they learn the skills to deal with it and feel supported by others in their lives. Children need to know that with the help of their parents and the school community, they can feel safe and happy in their lives again.