Everything Parents Need to Know About Cyberbullying
Every parent wants to keep their child safe, but for today’s kids, threats don’t just exist in the physical world. These days, cyberbullying—bullying that takes place on social media, over text and email, and in other online venues—is everywhere. A 2018 Pew Research Center study found that 59% of US teens had experienced cyberbullying, and 63% consider it a major problem.
As more and more kids and teens spend time online, opportunities for cyberbullies only increase. Trying to keep your child safe online can seem overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. To help, our safety team at ASecureLife has compiled a parent-friendly guide to preventing, recognizing, and dealing with cyberbullying.
How to prevent cyberbullying
The best way to protect your kids from cyberbullying is to encourage behaviors that help them avoid it altogether. Try adopting some of these strategies to keep your kids as safe as possible.
Set screen-time limits
Too much time in front of a screen has been linked to plenty of detrimental effects, such as trouble sleeping and eye strain. But too much time online could also increase the chances of your children being exposed to verbal attacks and dangerous online communities. Be clear with your children about how much time they can spend using their electronic devices each day and stick to it.
Encourage out-in-the-open device usage
If your kid spends a lot of time online in the privacy of their bedroom, it’s hard to keep tabs on what they’re doing. Encourage your children to use their devices in a public area of the home (consider setting up computer stations in living rooms or other family spaces)—you can better monitor what they’re up to and how they’re reacting to the media and messages they’re seeing.
Plus, your child may be encouraged to stay in safer online spaces if they know you’re nearby, which could help them avoid some cyberbullying.
Teach online safety
As an adult, you’re probably familiar with basic online security practices, such as using secure passwords and keeping your private information, well, private. But kids may not be as familiar with these seemingly common-sense topics. Make sure to talk to your kids about protecting themselves online, including setting their social media profiles to private, keeping their passwords safe, and shielding their personal information from the public eye.
Know your child’s risk factors
Just like with old-fashioned bullies, some kids are more susceptible to cyberbullying than others. If your child falls into a traditionally targeted group based on factors like physical appearance, gender identity, sexuality, race, religion, or physical and mental ability, be aware that those factors could come into play online as well. In addition, girls are slightly more likely than boys to be victims of online bullying.
Girls are slightly more likely than boys to be victims of online bullying.
If any of these risk factors apply to your child, take extra precautions to keep an eye on your kid’s health and mood, and keep communication channels with them open.
How to identify cyberbullying
Even the best-prepared kids sometimes fall victim to cyberbullying. Hopefully, if your child is one of them, they’ll feel comfortable coming to you for help. Of course, in reality, many kids keep their bullying secret from adults, which could include you as a parent. It’s your responsibility to recognize when cyberbullying occurs so you can give your child the support they need. But don’t worry, you can do a few things to make sure you’re in tune with your child when they experience online harassment.
Pay attention to your child’s digital behaviors
One way to tell if a child is experiencing cyberbullying is by keeping tabs on how they interact with their devices. Sometimes when they’re being bullied online, kids will begin to behave differently online. If they change the frequency of social media posts or start spending more or less time on their phones, these can be signs that they’re in an unfavorable digital environment.
Note changes in social patterns
Online harassment can affect kids’ real-world social patterns. Pay attention to abrupt changes in friend groups or atypical amounts of time spent alone.
Check social media comments
You should follow all of your kids’ social media accounts anyway, but especially if you’re concerned about cyberbullying. Pay attention to what their peers and other followers are saying in response to posts. Comment sections are prime real estate for aggressive cyberbullies, but if you’re paying attention, you can put a stop to mean comments before they spread.
How to take action
Discovering your child is being bullied online can be devastating, but once you find out what’s going on, it’s up to you to take action. As a parent, you can help your kid stop and respond to cyberbullying.
Document the bullying
One of the first things you should do is keep a digital record of what’s going on. Take screenshots of mean or inappropriate messages to be shared with teachers and administrators, and possibly even law enforcement if the harassment is serious enough.
Help your kid shut down bullies
One of the worst things your child (or you) could do is respond to bullies and make it worse. Instead, empower your child to ignore the comments or delete them if possible. They should also block offenders from their social media accounts.
Check in and reassure
Being bullied can be a stressful and heartbreaking experience for a child. Remind yours that you’re there for them, it’s not their fault, and they can talk to you anytime. You should also ask them how they’re feeling about what they’ve experienced and check in frequently.
Keep other adults in the loop
Many cyberbullies are people victims know in real life. If your child is being bullied online, there’s a good chance that they go to school with their bully. If that’s the case, alert teachers and other school authorities to the problem so they can encourage kindness in their classrooms and keep on the lookout for bullying behavior.
Do the best you can
As much as you’d like to, you can’t protect your kids from everything. And with an ever-expanding online landscape for them to explore, children are going to keep connecting and continue spending time online. You’ll never be able to control how other people treat them in digital spaces, but you can control some of their behaviors around the digital world to help minimize opportunities for cyberbullying, you can recognize signs of cyberbullying when it’s happening, and you can take action to help your kid in a cyberbullying scenario.
At the end of the day, the most important thing is building trust with your child. Explain why online rules exist, remind them that you trust them, and encourage them to talk to you if anything goes wrong.
Use the tips in the infographic below to get the conversation started with your child.