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What Every Parent Should Know About Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying is a growing problem that can have long-term effects on a kid’s mental health and wellbeing. With the rise of digital media, it's become easier for bullies to target their victims online. As a parent, it's important to be aware of the risks associated with cyberbullying and take steps to protect your kid. We'll discuss what cyberbullying is, how it can affect your kid, and what you can do about it.

Stefanie Parth
2/16/2023 • 6 min
Junior student reading offensive post in phone, boys mock behind, cyberbullying

It all started when a group of Sarah’s classmates created a fake Instagram account under the name "UglySarah" and started posting mean comments about her appearance. The posts quickly gained traction, with more and more students joining in and leaving hateful messages.

At first, Sarah tried to ignore the comments and told herself that they weren't true. But as the messages continued to pour in, she began to feel overwhelmed and ashamed of her looks. She stopped posting on social media altogether and started avoiding her classmates at school.

Then things got even worse. The bullies started sending her threatening messages through anonymous messaging apps, telling her to kill herself and that no one liked her.

Sarah’s case may be fictional, but the reality of cyberbullying is all too real. Nearly half of US teens have experienced at least one form of online bullying or harassment. Let’s take a closer look at what cyberbullying is and what you can do to protect your kid from it.

What Is Cyberbullying?

Cyberbullying is the use of technology to harass, embarrass, or intimidate someone. It can take many forms, including sending mean messages or threats, spreading rumors, or posting embarrassing pictures or videos. Cyberbullying can happen on social media, via text message or email, or through online gaming platforms. The most common reasons for being bullied include physical appearance, race/ethnicity, gender, disability, religion, sexual orientation.

How is it different from traditional bullying?

  • Anonymity: Cyberbullying can be done anonymously, which makes it easier for the bully to avoid consequences. This can make the victim feel powerless.
  • Permanence: Online content is often permanent and can be easily shared, which means that cyberbullying incidents can have a long-lasting impact on the victim's life.
  • Reach: Cyberbullying can reach a much larger audience than traditional bullying, which can increase the harm and humiliation experienced by the victim.
  • Accessibility: Cyberbullying can happen at any time and from any location, which means that victims may feel like they have no escape from the bullying.
  • Severity: Cyberbullying can be even more harmful than traditional bullying, as it can involve a wide range of abusive behaviors such as sharing humiliating pictures, spreading false rumors, and making threats.

Who Are Cyberbullies?

A 2018 study by the Pew Research Center found that 60% of U.S. teens who have been cyberbullied knew their perpetrator. Those are typically other classmates. But since the Internet allows for anonymity, some cyberbullies randomly pick their victims, without knowing them in real life.

Here are some potential reasons why someone may become a cyberbully:

  • Lack of empathy: Cyberbullies may lack empathy for their victims and may not consider the consequences of their actions.
  • Desire for power: Some cyberbullies may seek to gain power or control over others by engaging in bullying behavior.
  • Boredom: Cyberbullying can sometimes be a result of boredom or the desire for attention.
  • Peer pressure: Cyberbullies may feel pressure from their peers to engage in bullying behavior as a way to fit in or be accepted.
  • Personal issues: Cyberbullies may have experienced trauma or personal issues, such as a difficult home life, which can contribute to their behavior.

Signs Your Kid May Be Experiencing Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying can have serious effects on kids' mental health and wellbeing. It can lead to anxiety, depression, and even suicide.

As a parent, it's important to be aware of the signs that your kid may be experiencing cyberbullying. These signs can include:

  • Avoiding or being reluctant to use the Internet or social media
  • Becoming withdrawn or moody
  • Becoming anxious or depressed
  • Changes in eating or sleeping patterns
  • Being more secretive than usual
  • Becoming upset or angry after using the Internet or social media
  • Changes in academic performance

If you notice any of these signs in your kid, it's important to take action to address the situation. Here are some tips for what you can do if your kid is being cyberbullied:

Keep calm and offer support
If you suspect that your kid is being cyberbullied, it's important to remain calm and offer your support. Let your kid know that they can talk to you about what's happening and that you're there to help them - and don’t blame or criticize your kid for anything that may have led to the cyberbullying.

Collect evidence
If you suspect that your kid is being cyberbullied, try to collect as much evidence as possible. This may include screenshots of messages or posts, emails, or other forms of communication. Make sure to date and timestamp the evidence so that it can be used later if needed.

Report the cyberbullying
Report the cyberbullying to the appropriate authorities or online platform. Most social media platforms have a reporting feature that allows you to report bullying or harassment. If the bullying is severe or threatening, you may also want to involve the police.

Block the cyberbully
Encourage your kid to block the cyberbully from their social media accounts and messaging apps. This will prevent the bully from contacting your kid and may even stop the cyberbullying.

Seek professional help
If your kid is experiencing severe anxiety or depression as a result of cyberbullying, it may be necessary to seek professional help. A counselor or therapist can help your kid work through their feelings and develop coping strategies.

sad girl with smartphone looking at her mother at home

Let your kid know that they can talk to you about what's happening in their online life. (Source: Shutterstock)

What Can Parents Do to Prevent Cyberbullying?

1. Talk to your kid about cyberbullying
The first step in preventing cyberbullying is to talk to your kid about it. Explain what cyberbullying is and why it's important to be aware of it. Make sure your kid knows that they can come to you if they're ever the victim of cyberbullying. Encourage open communication so that your kid feels comfortable talking to you about their online experiences.

2. Teach your kid how to respond to cyberbullying
It's important to teach your kid how to respond to cyberbullying. Make sure they know that they should never respond to a cyberbully, as this can escalate the situation. Encourage your kid to save any evidence of cyberbullying, such as screenshots or text messages, so that you can take appropriate action.

3. Set rules for internet and social media use
Setting rules for your kid's digital media use can help prevent cyberbullying. Limit the amount of time your kid spends online and make sure they're not using social media or messaging apps during school hours. Explain to them why it’s important to use Ohana to monitor the apps and websites your kid is using. Also set guidelines for what they can and cannot do online.

4. Don’t rely on Ohana alone
While Ohana can be a helpful tool in preventing cyberbullying, it’s not a substitute for a trusting relationship, open communication and education about responsible online behavior. By working together, parents and kids can help prevent cyberbullying and create a safer online environment.

Read more:
How to Safeguard Children Against Cyberbullying, New York Times
Parenting Strategies and Adolescents’ Cyberbullying Behaviors, Research Article