Traditional bullying behaviors threaten children’s physical and emotional safety. Kids can also be threatened online. What can parents do to respond?
Parents dread the day their child comes home from school complaining about being bullied. Some parents have practiced what they will say if this happens: Stand up to the bully. Tell a teacher. Try to avoid the bully altogether.
But what if the bully doesn’t pick fights on the playground or school bus? What if the attack comes through text messages or on Facebook?
What is Cyberbullying?
Attacks using texts or Facebook are examples of “cyberbullying”. Cyberbullying is threatening, lying about, stalking, or harassing a person online or on cell phones. Cyberbullying may include the following behaviors:
• Posting private or fake pictures of another person.
• Pretending to be someone else online.
• Harassing, playing a prank or putting someone down while online.
• Posting someone else’s personal information.
• Posting false or cruel information about another person (here’s a brief video example).
• Using the Internet to encourage others to bully someone.
This new form of bullying is now more common than traditional bullying. 25% of teens report being victims of some form of online bullying.
Start talking to your kids early about internet, phone, and social media behaviors that are okay and not okay. These days, even children as young as 8 and 9 are on line and can be the target of cyberbullying. Children need you to set limits on data access. They need guidance about appropriate websites and contacts. They need to be aware of what to share and not share. For example:
Be aware of the signs of cyberbullying. Pay attention to changes in your child’s behavior, for example:
Keep the lines of communication open.
It’s important for children to know and feel that they can talk to their parents about the confusing or upsetting things that happen to them. The main reason kids don't tell adults about cyberbullying is because they’re afraid their computer use will be restricted or that their phone will be taken away.
Responding to your children’s worries by carefully listening to their concerns, calmly asking questions to learn more, and taking a problem-solving approach will encourage them to keep coming to you when and if they have a problem.
For further information
Teen Safety in Cyberspace - Read more about cyberbullying and Internet safety in general.
Bullying: What We Know Now: View a 60-minute webinar on bullying behaviors, their effects on children, and information about effective bullying prevention.
Cyberbullying and Sexting: Look at this website, which explains more about cyberbullying and sexting, their consequences, and what parents can do to prevent them.
Author: Jakob Jensen, Dept. of Human Development and Family Studies, Auburn University