Cyberbullying—A Primer for Parents

Most parents feel that they understand bullying. After all, there were bullies back when they were in school. But what many parents may not have a good handle on is cyberbullying, bullying that takes place using electronic technology. Electronic technology is not just cell phones, computers, and tablets but also communication tools such as social media sites, text messages, chat, and websites.

A 2011 report indicated that 9% of students in grades 6 through 12 experienced cyberbullying. Another report from 2013 found that 15% of high school students (grades 9 through 12) experienced cyberbullying. The frequency of cyberbullying is increasing, and the research is growing as well. However, rapid changes in technology makes it difficult for surveys to accurately capture trends.

Cyberbullying is Different

Kids who are cyberbullied are often bullied in person as well, but cyberbullying is more difficult for kids to get away from than face-to-face bullying. Here’s how cyberbullying is different:

  • Cyberbullying can happen 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and reach a kid even when he or she is alone.
  • Cyberbullying messages and images are often posted anonymously and distributed quickly to a wide audience. It can be difficult and sometimes impossible to trace the source.
  • Deleting inappropriate or harassing messages, texts, and pictures is often extremely difficult after they have been posted or sent.

Examples of Cyberbullying

Technology itself is not to blame for cyberbullying, and social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and SnapChat can connect kids with friends and family. These are all useful tools, but they can also be used to hurt other people. Some examples of cyberbullying include:

  • Disclosing someone else’s personal information in a public area (e.g., website) in order to cause embarrassment.
  • Posting rumors or lies about someone in a public area (e.g., discussion board).
  • Distributing embarrassing pictures of someone by posting them in a public area (e.g., social media site) or sending them via e-mail.
  • Assuming another person’s online identity to post or send messages about others with then intent of causing the other person harm.
  • Sending mean, embarrassing, or threatening text messages, instant messages, or e-mails.

Effects of Cyberbullying

Whether bullying takes place face-to-face or online, the effects are similar. Kids who are cyberbullied are more likely to:

  • Use alcohol and drugs
  • Skip school
  • Experience in-person bullying
  • Be unwilling to attend school
  • Receive poor grades
  • Have lower self-esteem
  • Have more health problems

Preventing Cyberbullying

Families and children can prevent cyberbullying, and open communication between adults and kids is critical. Here are things you can do to help prevent cyberbullying:

  • Talk to your child. You probably ask your child where they are going and who they will be with when they leave the house. You should ask the same questions when your child goes online.
  • Be aware of what your child is doing online. Tell your child that as a responsible parent you may review their online communications if you think there is a reason for concern. Ask for their passwords, but reassure them that you’ll only use them in case of emergency—and then stick to that promise. Ask to “friend” or “follow” them on social media sites (but refrain from posting to them).
  • Encourage your kids to tell you immediately if they, or someone they know, is being cyberbullied. Explain that you will not take away their computer or cell phone if they confide in you about a problem they are having.
  • Establish rules about the appropriate use of computers, cell phones, and other technology. Be clear about what sites they can visit and what they are permitted to do online. Show them how to be safe online.
  • Help them to be smart about what they post or say. Tell them not to share anything that could hurt or embarrass themselves or others. Once something is posted, it is out of their control.
  • Encourage kids to think about who they want to see the information and pictures they post online. Should complete strangers see it? Real friends only? Friends of friends? Think about how people who aren’t friends could use it. Is it something they would want a future employer to see?
  • Tell your child to keep their passwords safe and not share them with friends. Sharing passwords can compromise their control over their online identity and activities. Make sure they use strong passwords rather than “password” or “12345678” and use different passwords for each site.

Dealing with Cyberbullying

If you child is being cyberbullied, here is how to take action.

  • Steps to Take Immediately
    • Don’t respond to and don’t forward cyberbullying messages.
    • Keep evidence of cyberbullying. Record the dates, times, and descriptions of instances when cyberbullying has occurred. Save and print screenshots, e-mails, and text messages. Use this evidence to report cyberbullying to online service providers.
    • Block the person who is cyberbullying.
  • Reporting Cyberbullying to Online Service Providers
    • Cyberbullying often violates the terms of service established by social media sites and internet service providers. Review their terms and conditions or rights and responsibilities sections. These describe the content that is or is not appropriate.
    • Visit social media safety centers to learn how to block users and change settings to control who can contact your child.
    • Report cyberbullying to the social media site so they can take action against users abusing the terms of service.
  • Reporting Cyberbullying to Law Enforcement
    • If cyberbullying involves threats of violence, child pornography or sending sexually explicit messages or photos, taking a photo or video of someone in a place where he or she would expect privacy (e.g., a locker room), or stalking and hate crimes, it is considered a criminal act and should be reported to law enforcement.
  • Reporting Cyberbullying to Schools
    • In Illinois, schools are required to have an anti-bullying policy that includes cyberbullying. Contact your school to find out what their policy on cyberbullying is.

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