cyberbullying scaled
cyberbullying scaled

Cyberbullying is far more complex and covers several different activities. We have a handy link here of quotes of famous people talking about bullying in case your child feels like they are the only one. Like adults, children around the world face the numerous challenges of navigating the online world. Unlike adults, the nature of friendships in schools means that they can’t avoid it as easily. We talk about the benefits and issues with social media more generally here. This is why parents need to be able to step into the picture. As many of us grew up before the 24-hour online world, many of today’s parents find themselves searching for tips to avoid cyberbullying. If your child has access to the internet, it is not possible to shield them. Although cyberbullying may seem different, it is easy to understand if you just think of physical bullying, but instead of a punch in the face, it is an emotional punch. The basis of many of the actions you can do is the same. Try and avoid the situation, make a stand, and collect evidence.

Bullying states that about half of children experience cyberbullying at some time and at least 10 percent of them daily. That figure is alarming when you consider the number of children all around the world who are active online. Therefore, the 21st-century parent needs to know how to help their child avoid cyberbullying and mitigate its impact. Here we discuss more about general internet safety for children.

What is Cyberbullying?

Cyberbullying is the use of any form of online communication to target, intimidate, harass, belittle and threaten others. This could be messaging apps or online chat in games. Legally cyberbullying is specific to these activities when minors carry them out. When adults carry out these activities, they are categorized as cyberstalking or cyber-harassment. You need to be aware your child and their social media. You are not invading their privacy by looking after them. Children who use cellphones, tablets, laptops or any other gadget to communicate with others online are at risk of cyberbullying.  As in all cases, bullying is more than one act; it is several acts over a prolonged period explicitly aimed at the victim. A single rude word or accusation during the heat of a video game is not cyberbullying, in the same way as a one-off argument in a playground would not be. If there is an image of your child on social media we look at what you can do here.

A Closer Look at the Monster

In the real world, bullies aim to embarrass and intimidate. In the virtual world, their motives are the same. It is only their methods and tools that differ. The most significant difference is that the perpetrator can follow the victim into their own home. Cyberbullies use videos, pictures and text messages to unleash pain on their victims. Activities that can be considered cyber-bullying include:

  • Posting images of someone with character ‘bashing’ comments attached.
  • Posting negative comments on someone’s social media page.
  • Withholding likes or organizing for someone’s post or profile get negative clicks
  • Trolling, which includes stalking the victim’s profile or posts and posting negative or unwanted comments

What are the Impacts of Cyberbullying on Children?

Cyberbullying victims typically respond in one of two ways: some internalize the negative statements while others get angry and lash out. Cyberbullying triggers and worsens self-esteem issues. It also causes anxiety, depression, and several stress-induced conditions, especially for those children who respond by internalizing. As it can be far more public, played out in front of a year group, and stored as digital history, the effects are often worse than face-to-face bullying. Your child’s social media history follows them through life so it is important that it is clean.

For those children who internalize the effects can be very significant. A 2018 study conducted by Sameer Hinduja of Florida Atlantic University and Justin Patchin of the University of Wisconsin found that children who experience cyberbullying are almost twice as likely to attempt suicide than those who didn’t. Those who respond physically can also get into trouble in school, and the community, as violence is perceived as a more significant issue than the cyberbullying that caused it.

No parent wants to wake up to the harsh reality that cyberbullying has pushed their precious child to suicide or violence. Early intervention and the use of preventive measures can help to avoid this. AS with all things, talking and educating before the event is the best means of prevention. Children with strong self-esteem are less likely to be negatively affected by cyberbullying. However, it is not possible to shield your child from its effect. The online world is an integral part of almost every child’s life. There are so many positive aspects; it is unrealistic to expect your child to be separate from it.

How can you Reduce the Risk of Exposure to Cyberbullying?

It may seem that trying to supervise and control your child’s social media accounts is the solution. But, in today’s world, that would be like telling them they can’t join in the playground conversations. In extreme situations, this could be the solution, but like in the playground, it is a case of educating them on how to act. One thing that I often say when asked about this is that you will never beat a teenager at technology. There are companies that allow children to establish their own parent-free social media spaces by creating other hidden accounts. Apps like Kym’s App, help children hide their online activities from their parents. The app allows children to display a functioning calculator instead of the real screen and hide what they are doing online. With 4G it is possible to get around any internet blocks. It would not be possible, as a parent, to stay up to date with this ever-changing marketplace of ‘cyber masks’. However, we need to be mindful of their existence.

Parents who wish to limit their children’s risk of facing cyberbullying should focus on their child’s amount of time on social media. Since social media accounts for the lion’s share of cyberbullying cases, it is only logical that less time on social media platforms would mean a reduced chance of facing online attacks. This is precisely what one 2018 study in Europe found. After evaluating 12,000 teens from Germany, Romania and Poland, researchers noted a correlation between the length of time they spent online and their risk of facing cyberbullying. To be more specific, they discovered that teens in the study who spent more than 2 hours per day on social media had an increased risk of being targeted by cyberbullies.

In particular, taking mobile devices up to their rooms or letting them be ‘online’ continuously will mean that the bullies know that their target is accessible on their terms. This is why it is important when your child first gets their phone that they gradually have fewer restrictions as they gain more experience. In the same way you wouldn’t let them drive overnight on a motorway the day after they pass their driving test. If your child feels that their ‘cyber time’ is their property, they are empowered to opt in and out on their terms. The fear of missing out might make this hard for many children, so it is important to have rules for the use of mobile devices in your home from when they are introduced.

As in most things, education on the dangers and what to do, clear boundaries, and a relationship where you can communicate openly are essential. They might be worried about showing you other things on their media account. There will be aspects of their online life for many victims, for example, crushes, that they don’t want to share with their parents. Or the statements about their sexuality/or the nature of the images they are being bullied about means they don’t want their parents involved. This often stops them from reaching out for help. This is no different from face-to-face bullying. However, it is the public, inescapable nature of it that can cause increased harm.

How can you Reduce the Effects of Cyberbullying?

Make sure your child is aware of what cyberbullying is, what is acceptable, and you continue to have an open conversational relationship with them. It is vital that they feel that they feel they can escape it. Although this is a straightforward thing to write, I am fully aware that this is not easy for teenagers. The fear of being ‘out of the loop’ means they do not want to give up social media’s positive effects. For many, as for adults, social media is an addiction. If you think that cyberbullying is happening, make sure that your child takes screenshots if possible, and then does not respond. Schools, who will be the people who sort it out, can not do anything without evidence. In our experience 80% of bullying is now online and takes up a massive amount of time. Unlike a blackeye, it is hard to prove anything and things such as Snapchat are there to make sure there is no evidence.

The healthiest solution, and the hardest for your child to do, is to leave the groups that it is happening in or block the number. The same as you might stop talking to someone in the playground if they are physically bullying. If the home is to stay a haven, it is still possible to keep things outside. In the same way, you would not invite a physical bully into your home. It takes a brave step for your child to do this, and they will need support. The groups contain many of their friends, and they do not want to lose this contact and be out of the loop. It is often possible to leave/silence for a short period. Usually, in a day or two, it will pass, and they can then rejoin. The bully has not got the instant gratification of having an effect.

What are the Cyberbullying Signals to look out for?

Since many kids won’t tell their parents when they are experiencing online attacks, you must be prepared to identify the signs. More general signs of bullying are discussed in more detail here but briefly added below. There are also these specific ones:

  • Nervous or jumpy when a notification comes on their phone, especially when you are in the room. They are scared about what might be written, and they don’t want you to know what is happening.
  • Not leaving their mobile device unattended or hiding it when you enter the room. Similar to above but maybe it has been going on for longer.
  • Playing on computer games alone when they used to play as part of an online group. The environment might have been so toxic that they have decided to leave. In itself, it might be a positive choice, but is it symptomatic that they are being bullied on other media forms?
  • Becoming emotional when they are online. This could be anger or depression. However, there will be a reason why they might leave the room when you are all together or lash out.
  • Has become more secretive about online activities. Maybe they used to share the messages from friends and the like. It could be just a developing maturity, but again might be due to those messages’ content.

General signs of bullying:

  • Seems uneasy about going to school or pretends to be ill.
  • Unexplained anger or depression.
  • Withdrawing from friends and family in real life.
  • Unexplained illnesses that are linked to stress, such as headaches and stomachaches.
  • Loss or gain of appetite.
  • Trouble sleeping at night.
  • Suicidal thoughts.

Final Thoughts in Cyberbullying

The best thing you can do as a parent is to arm yourself with the right information; because frankly, you can’t stop cyberbullying without knowing about the ways cyberbullying can creep into your home. And here’s the kicker… Looking at the screen as your child works online or having access to social media handles won’t necessarily show you what he/she is up to. If you can get a peek behind the curtains they put up, you might be able to see if your child is a cyberbullying victim. Here we have articles for What to Do About Bullying