It’s difficult for parents to know if their teen is a victim of cyberbullying. Many teens choose not to tell, worried their device will be taken away. Instead, your daughter might complain of “drama at school.” Or maybe your son feels embarrassed or ashamed. Bullying makes most people feel weak and powerless.
Cyberbullying refers to internet bullying, an act of bullying through electronic devices such as smartphones and computers. Cyberbullying may take the form of sending aggressive or mean messages, or posting embarrassing photos or information about another person. Common platforms used for cyberbullying include text messages, social media and messaging apps.
According to Bark, an algorithm that scans for indications of cyberbullying, sexting, drug-related content and signs of depression, one in three children have experienced cyberbullying.
BullyingStatistics.org reports that cyberbullying affects many adolescents and teens on a daily basis. The Cyberbullying Research Center emphasizes that cyberbullying affects all races, and can be very damaging to adolescents and teens. Chad Rose, an assistant professor of special education in the MU College of Education found that bullying rates for teens with disabilities remained consistently higher than those without disabilities.
Worse, once an image or post is circulated on the internet, it may never disappear, resurfacing at later times to renew the victim’s suffering, or affect college or work applications. Cyberbullying can lead to anxiety, depression and even suicide.
Five Signs of Cyberbullying
Brian Bason, CEO of Bark, says there are five signs that parents can look for if they suspect their child is being cyberbullied:
1. Emotionally agitated after getting off the internet or their device
2. Seems anxious or uneasy when they receive an alert or text message
3. Unwilling to hand over their device
4. Change in mood, withdrawn, depressed or often angry or anxious
5. Change in behavior, sleep patterns or grades at school
Five Things Parents can do
Many teens choose not to tell a parent if they have been a victim of cyberbullying. Cyberbullying can happen at any time, at any location, but Bason says parents can take control to keep their children safe by:
1. Helping your teen understand what cyberbullying looks like. Start an open dialogue with your child, and be prepared to listen.
2. Setting guidelines and best practices. Discuss with your children how to be a positive digital citizen by not posting things that could be hurtful to other people and refusing to pass along hurtful messages their friends have shared. Consider establishing a family contract for online safety to set clear expectations.
3. Being alert. Review the signs listed above and ask your child if something is bothering them. You may have to come back to the conversation more than once. Kids can be reluctant to talk about cyberbullying. They may see it as tattling or are afraid of the response that they’ll get.
4. Being their support system. Let your child know they can come to you with any concern. This may be obvious to you, but it might not be to your teen who is dealing with an adolescent’s sense of isolation. Try to remain calm and understanding. If they feel like they can talk about their issues without you reacting in anger or being upset, they will be more likely to approach you if it is happening to them. It’s often hard for victims to reach out for help, so reinforcing that you are there for them is extremely important.
5. Figuring out the response together. Teach them to avoid engaging the bully. Screenshot and save any message that contains threatening or hurtful remarks. It’s important to have a paper trail if the situation escalates. Teach your child that they can, and should, report these instances to you or any trusted adult.
Technology allows us to be in contact 24 hours a day. This can be a terrifying prospect for a bullied teen. If you are concerned for your child, there are several resources available to learn more and equip yourself and your family against cyberbullying.
Cyberbullying Resources for Parents
● StopBullying.gov provides resources for how to respond to cyberbullies.
● Bark is an online watchdog engine that alerts parents to potential threats in their children’s social media, text messaging and email, without parents having to manually comb through all of their texts and social media accounts.
● CommonSenseMedia reviews media kids and teens are interested in and offers answers to Parent Concerns, such as cyberbullying, trolls and technology addiction.
Rebecca J. Lacko is a journalist, parent, and author of Teens can Improve Creativity, Relieve Anxiety by Meditating. Get acquainted at The Written Word.