October is National Bullying Prevention Month. With so many students learning remotely this school year during the pandemic, bullying is most often taking place online, so today’s blog will focus on how we can prevent cyberbullying.
Cyberbullying can be defined as unwanted, aggressive behavior involving a real or perceived power imbalance that takes place over digital devices like cell phones, computers, and tablets. Actions include:
- making threats or intimidating someone,
- sharing private information without the person’s consent,
- embarrassing or humiliating someone,
- spreading rumors and/or false content,
- making inappropriate sexual comments,
- attacking someone verbally (name-calling, insulting, taunting, etc.), and
- excluding someone from a group on purpose.
To be considered cyberbullying, the actions listed above are taken online by sending, posting or sharing digital media. The most common places where cyberbullying occurs are:
- social media, such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Tik Tok,
- text messaging and messaging apps on mobile or tablet devices,
- instant messaging, direct messaging, and online chatting over the internet,
- online forums, chat rooms, and message boards, such as Reddit,
- e-mail, and
- online gaming communities.
Cyberbullying presents special circumstances that make it unique and/or more damaging to the victim than traditional bullying taking place within a school. For example:
- Online bullies are often able to remain anonymous, reducing their chance of getting caught.
- Negative comments, photos, posts, and content shared by individuals can often be viewed by strangers as well as acquaintances, expanding the audience of the bullying.
- Online bullies are able to enlist the participation of other people online, amplifying the damage.
- Information shared electronically is a permanent public record, damaging the victim’s online reputation which could be accessible to schools, employers, colleges, clubs, and others who may be researching an individual now or in the future.
- Victims of bullying can’t find relief from cyberbullying, even in their own homes, because our digital devices allow immediate and continuous communication.
- Parents and teachers are less likely to see cyberbullying take place online.
- People are much more likely to be cruel or take actions they normally wouldn’t online because they can’t see the victim’s reaction.
Warning Signs a Teen is Being Cyberbullied or is Cyberbullying Others
Some of the warning signs that a child may be involved in cyberbullying are:
- Noticeable increases or decreases in device use, including texting.
- A child exhibits emotional responses (laughter, anger, upset) to what is happening on their device.
- A child hides their screen or device when others are near.
- Social media accounts are shut down or new ones appear.
- A child becomes withdrawn or depressed, or loses interest in people and activities.
What to Do When Cyberbullying Happens
If you discover that your teen has become a victim of cyberbullying, take these steps:
- Do Not Respond – The most important thing a victim of any type of bullying can do is not respond to the bully. In the case of cyberbullying, that means do not answer emails, do not respond to posts, do not engage in a chat room exchange, and do not repeat the behavior of the bully. The bully wants a reaction, and your emotional response can make a bad situation worse.
- Document – Keep a record of what is happening and where. Take screenshots of harmful posts or content, keep copies of emails, etc. Most laws and policies note that bullying is a repeated behavior, so records help to document it.
- Report – Most social media platforms and schools have clear policies and reporting processes. If a classmate is cyberbullying, report it the school. You can also contact app or social media platforms to report offensive content and have it removed, which is important in protecting your teen’s online reputation. If a child has received physical threats, or if a potential crime or illegal behavior is occurring, report it to the local police.
- Support – Peers, mentors, and trusted adults can sometimes intervene publicly to positively influence a situation where negative or hurtful content has been posted about a teen. By posting positive comments about the person targeted by the bullying, the public can shift the conversation in a positive direction.
How to Prevent CyberBullying
What Can Teens Do?
Even if your teen has not been a victim of cyberbullying, there are some simple things they can do to stop this type of behavior:
- Refuse to pass along cyberbullying messages.
- Do not “like,” share, or comment on information that has been posted about someone else.
- Reach out to victims of cyberbullying to offer support.
- Tell friends to stop cyberbullying.
- Block communication with cyberbullies.
- Report cyberbullying to a trusted adult.
- Remember: If you wouldn’t say it in person, don’t say it, write it, or forward it online.
What Can Parents Do?
Parents should talk to their children about this issue. Cyberbullying is too prevalent to ignore, and the earlier you introduce this discussion, the better prepared your child will be to avoid becoming a cyberbully and to handle electronic intimidation they may encounter. Having conversations with children about cyberbullying and digital behavior is not a one-time event – it is an ongoing dialogue.
To minimize the risk of cyberbullying or harm from digital behavior, parents can:
- Set clear expectations about digital behavior and online reputation.
- Together with your child, develop rules about acceptable and safe behaviors for all electronic media.
- Educate about the harmful effects of cyberbullying, posting hateful speech or comments, sexting, and sharing naked photos of themselves or others (including potential legal issues).
- Be clear about what content can be viewed or shared. Tell teens to never pass along harmful or cruel messages or images.
- Identify which apps are appropriate for your child’s use and which are not.
- Establish rules about the amount of time that a child can spend online or on their devices.
- Teach youth the basics of smart and savvy online behavior, such as never revealing passwords or real last names.
- Model positive, respectful digital behavior on your own devices and accounts.
- Make plans for what teens should do if they become a victim of electronic aggression or know someone who is being victimized.
Parents also need to understand that a child is just as likely to be a cyberbully as a victim of cyberbullying and often go back and forth between the two roles during one incident. The child may not even realize that they have become an aggressor. For example, when Teen A spreads a nasty rumor about Teen B, often Teen B will retaliate with a similar rumor to get back at Teen A.
Cyberbullying is a problem in our technology-driven culture, but by taking the time to teach and model good digital citizenship to your children, you will do a lot to mitigate the risks.