By Kelly Santos
Learn how to recognize cyberbullying warning signs and how to shut it down, all while strengthening your relationship with your child. Here are the most-asked questions we get from parents new to the world of cyberbullying:
1. So what exactly is cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying happens when someone (of any age) uses technology to harass, embarrass, intimidate or stalk someone else. Cyberbully tools include emails, instant messages, text messages, social media, photos, videos or even chat on online gaming sites. Cyberbullying leaves its victims feeling scared, isolated, intimidated and humiliated. It’s not a joke, a phase, or a “kids will be kids” part of growing up.
2. How is it done?
Cyberbullying is limited only by the bully’s imagination and brazenness. It might be a Facebook account the bully sets up in the victim’s name to make embarrassing fake posts. Or maybe it’s pictures of the skinny kid in gym class shared on cell phones with a degrading caption. It might be unsettling or stalker-like emails like, “I know where you live, and I’m watching you.” Or maybe it’s a sore loser on an online gaming network who badmouths an opponent and encourages other players to ban him from their games. Sometimes bullies make fake harassment reports against victims so they eventually lose their Internet Service Provider (ISP) or instant messenger accounts.
3. Would I know a cyberbully if I saw one?
Maybe. Many cyberbullies are also bullies in the physical world. Or, they may be victims of bullying themselves who have found a way to feel powerful by tormenting others behind the safety of a screen. Cyberbullies often know their victims and may be “frenemies,” seeming at times to be friendly and fun, only to attack later. That’s why cyberbullying is so emotionally hurtful. Because the Internet gives bullies anonymity, they’re less empathetic. They can’t see the cues (tears, expression, tone of voice) that might otherwise cause their physical-world counterparts to back off a bit. When they can’t see the person being hurt, other kids find it easier to pile on.
4. Can I bully-proof my kids?
You can show them how to become less-attractive targets (and even prevent them from becoming bullies themselves):
- Teach them that the same rules for interacting with people in the real world also apply online. Bullies can be set off by a perceived slight in a posting your child has made.
- Model appropriate online behavior yourself. Resist the urge to rant or joke about others online.
- Maintain an open-door policy. Your child will be more likely to confide little problems before they become big.
- Arm your child with some “What ifs …” For example, “What if someone posted mean things about you online?” (Don’t retaliate in kind; it only ups the ante and makes the “game” more fun.)
5. How can I tell if my child is being bullied?
SocialScout can be set up by parents to alert them to suspicious situations, requests from adults and many other scenarios. But your gut can tell you plenty, too. A bullied child often shows signs that shouldn’t be dismissed as ordinary preteen or teenage moodiness:
- Your child suddenly seems withdrawn.
- He or she cuts off contact with friends.
- Your child stops (or conversely, obsesses about) using the Internet or cell phone.
- Grades or attendance take a dive.
- Your child becomes the target of traditional bullying (in-person taunts or physical contact).
6. If I learn my child is being bullied, what should I do NOW?
- Soothe your child’s emotions. Big hug. I’m on your side. Don’t judge (“What did you expect, hanging out with that kid?”). Don’t trivialize (“Sticks and stones …”). Being heard and understood goes a long way.
- Stay calm. Kids clam up if they think you’ll confiscate their phone or do something embarrassing, like giving the bully’s mother a piece of your mind. If it’s a one-time prank, see if the problem passes on its own.
- Assess the threat. How far has this gone? Mean words? Embarrassing photos? Physical threats? If your child is in danger or someone is encouraging others to harm your child, you can’t wait and see. Notify your child’s school and the police. They’ll guide you on an immediate response and offer tips.
- Block the sender (depending on the type of harassment) using ISP and instant messaging blocking features.
- Prepare to do more. This can include reporting bullying incidents to the sender’s ISP or reporting to your child’s own ISP if his or her account has been hacked and compromised. Also see what the law can and can’t do to help you.
To learn more, check out more resources at StopCyberbullying.org.
This article was originally published on Identity Theft 911 Blog.
Image: Lars Plougmann, via Flickr