How to Talk to Your Kid About Cyberbullying

Technology has changed the way teens interact with their friends, with 55% saying they text their friends every day but only 25% saying they spend time outside of school with their friends everyday. 

Though technology can help kids make and maintain friendships, it comes with a downside, as well. While bullying has always been an issue for kids, there's now no getting away from it. A survey of teens shows that 59% have personally been bullied or harassed online. 

Unfortunately, kids who are cyberbullied are more likely to experience suicidal ideation, anger, frustration, and other emotional problems.

What Is Cyberbullying?

Although cyberbullying is a widespread problem, not all conflict between kids, whether in person or online, is bullying. Bullying behavior has three core elements: 

  • There is an imbalance of power, even a perceived one.
  • The behavior is aggressive and unwanted.
  • The behavior is repeated, or there is a high likelihood that it will be repeated. 

Cyberbullying fits these core elements but there are additional concerns with cyberbullying because it's:

  • Persistent. With social media and digital devices being available constantly, there's no place for kids to get away from it.
  • Less noticeable. It's obvious if a child is pushing another one at school, but name-calling and other harassing behavior online are much more difficult to notice. 
  • Permanent. Once something is online, it's usually there permanently. It can follow the bullied and the bully for years and lead to negative consequences in all areas of their lives. 

What To Say To Your Kids

Many parents worry about their children being cyberbullied, but 23% of kids admit they've been mean or cruel to someone else online. It's important to talk to your kids about all of the different aspects of cyberbullying.

Cyberbullying involves many others besides just the bully and the bullied. Discussing all of the roles can teach your child to develop self-awareness and empathy. These roles include: 

  • The cyberbully, who is the aggressor using digital media to intentionally harass their target
  • The target, who is the one being bullied
  • Bystanders, who are aware something bad is happening but don't do anything about it
  • Upstanders, who step in and try to break the cycle by sticking up for the target, addressing the bully, or notifying the authorities 

Continued

If your child is being bullied, here are some positive steps you can take: 

  • Reassure your child of your love and support.
  • Encourage them to step away from the computer or phone. 
  • Tell them not to respond or retaliate. Cyberbullies are looking for a reaction, and, even if your child feels justified in responding harshly, they may encourage it and later regret it. 
  • Block the bully. Most social networking sites allow you to block people. You can also block their number from sending messages to your child's phone. 
  • Save and print the messages. This could be important for documenting the bullying if other measures to stop it aren't working.
  • Encourage your child to talk to their friends. It can help to have a sympathetic listener. 
  • Tell a school authority. Almost all schools have rules against cyberbullying even if it happens outside of school hours.

If your child is aware of someone else being cyberbullied, they may not know what to do about it. Here are some things you can tell your child to do to be an upstander instead of a bystander:

  • Report it to school officials. You can do this anonymously if you're worried about any fallout.
  • Report it to the site or app where the bullying is occurring. All reputable sites have an anonymous method of reporting harassment. 
  • Take screenshots of the bullying. It will be easier to prove later if there's evidence.
  • Support the person being targeted. Let them know you see what's going on and you care about their feelings. 
  • Organize positivity. Get some of your friends together and post positive comments about the person being targeted.
  • Stand up to the bully. Tell them to stop. If they know the bully personally, they could even talk to them about how they are hurting the other person and try to make them empathize with them.
  • Don't participate in bullying. Don't encourage it by forwarding it, reposting it, or gossiping about it. Don't stand on the sidelines and say nothing. 
  • Keep yourself safe. Don't post or message negative things when your emotions are running high. Don't cross the line and threaten the bully, even in defense of someone else. Don't hang out in toxic online environments. 
WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on March 02, 2021

Sources

SOURCES:

Child Mind Institute: "How to Help Kids Deal With Cyberbullying."

Common Sense Media: "Cyberbullying, Haters, and Trolls."

Cyberbullying.org: "Standing up to Cyberbullying."

DoSomething.org: "11 FACTS ABOUT CYBERBULLYING."

Pew Research Center: "A Majority of Teens Have Experienced Some Form of Cyberbullying," "Teens, Technology, and Friendships."

Psychological Bulletin: "Bullying in the Digital Age: A Critical Review and Meta-Analysis of Cyberbullying Research Among Youth."

Stopbullying.gov: "Facts About Bullying," "What Is Cyberbullying."

© 2020 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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