For school-age children, the playground isn’t just a physical space with swings and a slide. It’s also the world of texts and technology, built up with likes, tweets, images, and the latest lens on Snapchat. And just like on a physical playground, the interactions don’t always stay positive.
What is cyberbullying?
Bullying is harassment by way of a power imbalance. Cyberbullying involves the use of phones or internet to accomplish this. It seems intangible, but has serious and long-lasting impacts, just like physical bullying.
What does cyberbullying look like?
- Hurtful, angry texts or emails
- Spreading rumors through social media
- Sharing embarrassing or unflattering photos
- Threatening or name-calling online
- Breaking into someone’s email, phone, or social media to do damage
Information can spread like wildfire through technology. Because of this, it’s sometimes difficult to track down and remove hurtful words or images that have been posted. This can make cyberbullying all the more persistent, painful, and public.
How common is cyberbullying?
Sadly, very common. Take a look at these statistics:
- About 97% of middle schoolers are bullied while being online, according to the CDC.
- 81% of adolescents think it’s easier to get away with bullying online, rather than face-to-face.
- Only 1 out of every 10 children being bullied through phone or internet will tell a trusted adult – that means that 9 out of 10 are navigating the hurt and the shame alone.
- Youth who’ve experienced cyberbullying are 2-9 times more likely to consider suicide.
- 3 out of 4 kids admit: they’ve visited a website bashing another student.
The numbers are staggering, but there is hope. As parents, guardians, and trusted adults, there’s a lot we can do to protect children from cyberbullying and address it swiftly when it occurs.
Here are three things you can do to keep your child safe in the tech playground:
- Stay active and involved in your child’s technology use.
- Keep the computer in a busy place so you can keep a pulse on their activities.
- Know your kids’ screen names, social media pages, and passwords. Explain that you stay active in their online life not to spy, but because you care about them and want to support their wellbeing.
- Educate your child about cyber safety and appropriate behavior.
- Consistently remind them not to give out personal information in websites, text messages, private chats, or blogs. Remind them that once it’s online, it can be there forever, and there’s no controlling who ultimately sees it. The internet or a text is not the place to spill deep, dark secrets – and they should never, ever give out a password to anyone except their parents.
- Talk to your child from a young age about what cyberbullying is, what it looks and sounds like.
- Teach them how to respond when, not if, they spot cyberbullying happening to others. They can:
- Withdraw support by not visiting or reposting hurtful pages
- Forward what’s happening to an adult
- Discourage the child who is bullying by telling them that what they’re doing is lame and not funny
- Share positive words that build up and support the child being bullied
- Instruct your kids how to act appropriately in cyberspace. Ask them important questions, like:
- Would you say what you’ve written out loud, to a person’s face? What about in front of their parents or teachers? If not, they probably shouldn’t write it, as it will likely end up in front of those adults.
- Can what you’ve posted be taken out of context, and used to hurt you or another person? Would it make others feel left out?
- Does technology make it easier for you to say something mean to someone? How so?
- Engage your child about cyberbullying, and keep an eye out for the signs.
- Remind them that they are not to blame and shouldn’t feel ashamed if they experience cyberbullying, and that they should come to you (be clear that you won’t take away their phone/online privileges!).
- Randomly ask them for a report-out on their time online: What’s new on social media? What was the funniest thing posted? Was anything hurtful said or anybody made fun of?
- Know the signs and talk with your child if you see them. Your child might be being bullied if they are:
- Upset or agitated after getting off the phone/computer
- Anxious, uneasy, or unusually alert when receiving notifications or text messages
- Reluctant or outright refusing to give you their device
- More withdrawn, depressed, anxious, or angry than their typical mood
- Behaving differently, with changes in sleep patterns, grades, after school activities, or their friends
Did you miss Part I or II of our series on bullying?