We’ve all heard the horror stories of kids committing suicide as a result of bullying and destructive peer behavior, and inevitably these behaviors have been taken to a whole new level with the anonymity that technology can provide. Even the most conscientious parents and careful kids can become victims to cyberbullying.
At a recent office staff meeting the parents at the table all had stories to share….an ex boyfriend sending angry, inappropriate texts to his girlfriend, a classmate sexually harassing another student on Facebook, even a neighbor’s home being vandalized with spray paint after bigoted remarks were hurled at their child on social media.
It’s scary stuff, and parents can feel overwhelmed and ill equipped. According to Common Sense Media (CSM), it can be difficult to get our kids to open up on the subject. Their website advices that, “Many kids don’t tell their parents that they’re being cyberbullied. Kids might feel embarrassed or ashamed to let you know they’ve been targeted. They also might be afraid your involvement will make things worse. But, if you find out your kid has been cyberbullied, it probably means the issue is major enough for you to get involved.”
So what a parent to do once they find out it is happening to their child? CSM advises talking through the situation calmly with your child and gathering as many facts as you can, then working out an action plan. And don’t underestimate the good old buddy system. Research shows that kids sticking up for one another against a bully does wonders. But CSM is quick to remind parents that if you feel your child’s safety is at risk, contact the authorities immediately.
Here are some additional guidelines provided by StopBullying.gov, a U.S. Department of Health & Human Services website devoted to the topic.
What parents can do:
- Supervise your children when they are using the Internet
- Place computers in central areas in your home to allow for easy supervision
- Set rules about Internet use, including when and how long kids can use it
- Encourage your children to tell you when they observe cyberbullying
- “Friend” or “follow” your kids on social media sites
- Tell your kids hat if you wouldn’t say something to someone, you shouldn’t text it or post it online
What kids can do:
- Don’t forward or spread cyberbullying messages
- Don’t respond or retaliate
- Tell a parent or other trusted adult about any cyberbullying you experience or witness
Signs your child has been cyberbullied:
- Your child avoids the computer or their cell phone or seems stressed when receiving emails or text messages
- Your child seems withdrawn and doesn’t want to attend school and social events
- Your child doesn’t want to talk about computer use
- Your child shows signs of declining self-esteem, depression or fear or develops poor eating or sleeping habits.
- Your child’s grades are declining
If your family has been cyberbullied:
- Block cyberbullies on social media sites
- Save evidence, such as email and text messages and record the date and time of harassment
- Report harassment or other inappropriate activities to social media sites and Internet service providers
- Report bullying activity to school officials
- If bullying involves threats of violence or child pornography, report to law enforcement
By the numbers
- 6% of students in grades 6-12 have experienced cyberbullying (Source: 2008-2009 School Crime Supplement by National Center for Education Statistics and Bureau of Justice Statistics)
- 16% of high school students were electronically bullied in the past year (Source: 2011 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey)
- 12% of Fairfax County, VA, students surveyed reported being cyberbullied (Source: 2011 Fairfax County Youth Survey)
- 18% of males and 16 % of females report bullying others online (Source: 2007 Teens and Cyberbullying research by the National Council to Prevent Crime)
- 75% of teens know who is cyberbullying them (Source: 2007 Teens and Cyberbullying research by the National Council to Prevent Crime)
- 58% of teens do not think cyberbullying is a big deal (Source: 2007 Teens and Cyberbullying research by the National Council to Prevent Crime)
- 81% of youth believe people cyberbully because they think it’s funny (Source: 2007 Teens and Cyberbullying research by the National Council to Prevent Crime)