Cyberbullying is the use of digital-communication tools (such as the Internet and cell phones) to make another person feel angry, sad, or scared, usually again and again. Examples of cyberbullying include sending hurtful texts or instant messages, posting embarrassing photos or video on social media, and spreading mean rumors online or with cell phones.
If you’re trying to figure out whether your kid is being cyberbullied, think about whether the offender is being hurtful intentionally and repeatedly. If the answer is no, the offender might simply need to learn better online behavior. If the answer is yes, take it seriously.
What should I do if my kid is bullied online?
Finding out that your kid has been cyberbullied is emotional for parents. You or your kid might want to retaliate, but it’s best to help your kid defuse the situation, protect himself, and make rational efforts to put a stop to the bullying. Here are the immediate steps we recommend for parents:
- Reassure your child that you love and support him or her.
- Help your child step away from the computer or device and take a break.
- If you can identify the bully, consider talking with the parents.
- Consider contacting your kid’s school. If bullying is happening online, it might be happening offline, too.
- Empower your kid with specific steps he or she can take.
When should parents intervene in a cyberbullying situation?
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.
Try this: Collect more facts by talking the situation through with your kid. Work out a plan of action together. Make sure you and your kid agree on what the outcome should be. Ramp up your efforts as the situation demands.
Another reason not to rush to a solution: Research indicates that peers sticking up for each other is a very effective defense against bullies. Bullies work by trying to isolate their victims. When kids rally around the target, it thwarts the bully. Encourage your kid to reach out to friends for support.
Of course, if there are any real threats to your child’s safety, you should contact the authorities immediately.
What can I tell my kid to do if he or she is being cyberbullied?
Kids may not always recognize teasing as bullying. Some kids also may be too embarrassed or ashamed to talk to their parents about it. That’s why it’s important to talk about online and digital behavior before your child starts interacting with others online and with devices. To prepare your kid for going online or getting a cell phone, or, if you know he or she has been bullied online, offer these steps he or she can take immediately:
- Sign off the computer. Ignore the attacks and walk away from the cyberbully.
- Don’t respond or retaliate. If you’re angry or hurt, you might say things you’ll regret later. Cyberbullies often want to get a reaction out of you, so don’t let them know their plans have worked.
- Block the bully. If you get mean messages through IM or a social-networking site, take the person off your buddy or friends list. You also can delete messages from bullies without reading them.
- Save and print out bullying messages. If the harassment continues, save the evidence. This could be important proof to show parents or teachers if the bullying doesn’t stop.
- Talk to a friend. When someone makes you feel bad, sometimes it can help to talk the situation over with a friend.
- Tell a trusted adult. A trusted adult is someone you believe will listen and who has the skills, desire, and authority to help you. Telling an adult isn’t tattling — it’s standing up for yourself. And, even if the bullying occurs online, your school probably has rules against it.
How do I report cyberbullying?
If your kid is bullied on a website or in an app, go to the company’s site and look for a section offering support, such as “Community Guidelines,” “Safety Center,” “Parent Info,” “Safety Tips,” or something similar. It may make recommendations such as blocking the bully or changing the setting for who can contact you.
If your kid is bullied or harassed over text message, call your mobile phone provider to report the number. You may be able to block it or change your phone number. Many carriers offer additional anti-bullying features for a fee.
If the abuse continues, you may need to enlist the help of your community: your kid’s school, his or her coaches, or other parents. If the communication contains threats, you’ll need to report it to law enforcement.
Empower kids to take positive action
Until recently, parents, teachers, and news accounts have focused on the relationship between a bully and his or her target. But experts say that there are usually more kids involved in a cyberbullying scenario, making it a much more complex organism than previously thought. In fact, one of the side effects of how public bullying has become is that potentially everyone in the bully’s circle of friends — both online and off-line — may be involved.
Identifying the different roles in a cyberbullying situation can help you to help your kid develop self-awareness and a sense of empathy. These skills will go a long way toward cultivating an online culture of respect and responsibility.
First, there’s the cyberbully, the aggressor who’s using digital media tools (such as the Internet and cell phone) to deliberately upset or harass their target — the person who’s being cyberbullied. Then there are the bystanders, the kids who are aware that something cruel is going on but who stay on the sidelines (either out of indifference or because they’re afraid of being socially isolated or of becoming a target themselves). But there are also kids who act as upstanders. These are the kids who actively try to break the cycle, whether by sticking up for the target, addressing the bully directly, or notifying the appropriate authorities about what’s going on.
Kids may play different roles at different times. Your advice to your child will differ depending on the situation and the specific role your child is playing in whatever bullying or drama is going on.
By making kids aware that a safe world is everyone’s responsibility, we empower them to take positive actions — like reporting a bully, flagging a cruel online comment, or not forwarding a humiliating photo — that ultimately can put a stop to an escalating episode of cruelty.
For more information about safe use of digital media, go to commonsensemedia.org.