As tragic stories of bullying continue to make headlines, and movements like the Bully Project gain steam, communities are coming together to put a stop to bullying — in all its forms. However, one form of bullying is particularly notable and should be paid special attention to: cyberbullying. This fairly recent phenomenon has plagued kids across the country, causing depression and, in some cases, even suicide. As a parent and peer, you can help protect your child against cyberbullying and prevent them from bullying others. In honor of National Child Abuse Prevention Month, try these tips to help defend against cyberbullying.
1. Be a proactive parent
A 2011 Pew Internet and American Life Survey found that only 7 percent of U.S. parents are worried about cyberbullying, though 33 percent of teenagers have been victims of cyberbullying. Cyberbullying is — and should be — a major concern for parents. Doing what you can to prevent your child from being a perpetrator or victim is paramount.
2. Define what cyberbullying is
Talk to your child about what cyberbullying behavior is. The Cyberbullying Research Center defines cyberbullying as “willful and repeated harm inflicted through the use of computers, cell phones, and other electronic devices.” However, it is not limited to that. Your child may be participating in cyberbullying unknowingly. Things like forwarding a hurtful message or taking inappropriate photos of someone can also be considered cyberbullying (and, more importantly, make your child legally liable). Ensure your children know what this behavior is and that they do not participate.
3. Keep an eye out for telltale signs
Though you may encourage communication, your child may feel uncomfortable talking about their cyberbullying problems for reasons such as fear, insecurity, or shame. Marie Newman, co-author of the book When Your Child Is Being Bullied: Real Solutions, lists behaviors that may be symptoms of a child who has been a victim of cyberbullying:
— Your child suddenly spends much more — or much less — time social networking, or asks to have a social media account shut down.
— After texting or being online, your child seems withdrawn, upset, or outraged.
— Your child suddenly avoids formerly enjoyable social situations.
— Your child blocks a number or an email address from their account.
— Many new phone numbers, texts, or email addresses show up on your child’s phone, laptop, or tablet.
If you notice any of these behaviors, gently address the subject with your child, offering your love and support.
4. Encourage your community to take action
Be a role model for your own child, and encourage others to follow suit. The Bully Project encourages individuals to mobilize their communities and take a stand against bullying by uniting students, teachers, parents, and the community at large. You can review a toolkit and resources for anti-bullying advocates, and encourage dialogue within your community.
Preventing your child from becoming a victim or perpetrator of cyberbullying is in your hands. Therefore, you should always encourage an open dialogue about this important issue.