Bullying no longer just happens in school hallways or on the playground. Since kids are now online and mobile, cyberbullying is a huge concern. It occurs digitally, on your children’s computers, phones, tablets, and even on video games, where players talk and text chat. Bullies now follow their victims anywhere in the world, even into the safety of their own homes.
According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, 95 percent of U.S. teens ages 12-17 use a smartphone, 81 percent of them use social networks, and 45% say they are online almost constantly.
- 59% of U.S. teens report that they have been bullied or harassed online, and a close number say it’s a major problem for people their age
- 1 in 4 teens have been the victims of cyberbullying
- 1 in 6 admit to having cyberbullied someone
- Girls are just as likely, if not more, than boys to be victims and offenders of cyberbullying — even among their own “friends.”
Most research on cyberbullying focuses on teens. But younger generations are also getting digital access, exposing them to the threat of cyberbullying too. By understanding how and where cyberbullying occurs, parents, teachers, and caregivers can help prevent it from happening.
What is cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying is similar to other forms of bullying, except it happens over digital devices like cell phones, computers, and tablets. It can occur anywhere people can view, participate in, or share content. Cyberbullies usually send, post, or sharing negative, harmful, mean, embarrassing, or false content about someone else. Common spots that cyberbullying can occur are:
- Social Media like Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter or Facebook
- Text (aka SMS) messages sent through mobile devices
- Instant Messages (What’s App or Facebook Messenger)
- Video Game messages
Cyberbullying is persistent, permanent, and hard to notice. Content shared by cyberbullies is intended to humiliate. Many times it is presented as unflattering photos or videos, and some social media platforms even enable bullies to capture and post these pieces without the victims’ knowledge.
No one wants to believe their kids are capable of something like cyberbullying. But statistics show that many children are involved in this behavior, both as victims and offenders. Sometimes it’s intentional and meant to be hurtful. And sometimes it could be intended as a joke, posted without thought, or taken the wrong way.
Why is cyberbullying so hard to stop?
Cyberbullying is difficult to manage for both schools and parents. Certain platforms allow content to be anonymous, which lets kids say whatever they want without their names. Even when names are included, cyberbullies can delete posts before anyone has a chance to save it. Kids can also create fake accounts under different names. Sometimes cyberbullies will even create fake accounts under the names of their victims.
And, the truth is, sometimes parents just don’t monitor their children’s online behavior — or don’t know what to monitor. Even when they are monitoring, they may miss subtle signs, or not see posts or comments because their kids delete them.
What can schools do about cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying is often part of schools’ anti-bullying bylaws and many states’ anti-bullying legislation. However, it still happens even with school rules restricting media use. For example, some schools may allow cell phone use during bus rides, or may require kids to have Google email accounts. In such instances, students should be held accountable and given consequences if there is evidence of harassment, especially during school, bus rides, field trips, and/or school events and extracurricular activities.
How can I find out if my kids are being cyberbullied?
There are endless possibilities to the ways media can be used by bullies to their victims. And kids become more tech-savvy and creative each year, making it increasingly more important for parents to tune into their kids’ lives online and offline.
The signs of cyberbullying vary from child to child. But behavior surrounding online matters may include:
- being emotionally upset during or after using digital media
- wanting to stop using one or all digital media or devices
- being nervous or jumpy when getting an instant message, text, or email
- avoiding discussions about computer, cell phone, or gaming activities
- being very secretive or protective of their digital life
And their offline behavior may include these common warning signs of any kind of bullying:
- withdrawing from family members, friends, and activities
- avoiding school and/or group gatherings
- slipping grades and “acting out” in anger at home
- changing moods, behavior, sleep, and/or appetite
What can I do if I suspect my kids are being cyberbullied?
As a parent, you may notice signs or see evidence that your children or others are the victims of cyberbullying. In this situation, you can:
- Encourage your kids not to respond to the cyberbullying. Responding can just add fuel to the fire.
- Keep records of the threatening messages, pictures, and texts. Take screenshots or print out records of cyberbullying to use as evidence to show the bully’s parents, school, employer, or even the police.
- Look into your kids’ school rules about cyberbullying. Make sure your children understand what acceptable and unacceptable online behavior is.
- Block the bully. Many social media sites give the option to block other people, to delete messages and pictures, and to report comments or pictures to the social media site. You can also block numbers on your child’s phone if the incidents are happening via texting.
- Limit or restrict access to social media. This can be upsetting to kids who want to keep using their social media accounts to interact with friends. But sometimes it’s the best way to cut off the bully.
What should I tell my kids about cyberbullying?
Help your children navigate these tricky waters:
- Remember that bullying in any form — in-person and online — is never okay. Explain the consequences of cyberbullying for both the victim and the bully. Teach kids that joking online can be more hurtful than funny.
- Practice smart and safe online habits. Teach the importance of privacy and keeping personal information offline.
- Remember that everything in the digital world and in social media is forever. All it takes is for someone to take a picture of a post/comment or instantly share it, and your words or pictures will be always be around. There’s no taking it back once it’s out there — even if you delete the original post, comment, or image.
- Always report cyberbullying when you see it. Encourage your kids to tell you, a teacher, a school guidance counselor or school psychologist, or another trusted adult. Make absolutely sure to report it if bullies are threatening or encouraging violence or if kids seem like they might harm themselves or others because of the cyberbullying.
- Think before you post. Words have meaning — even online — and messages can easily be misinterpreted. Kids should always remember to be nice and respectful with their words and actions while online. Reminding them that other parents might be watching can sometimes help them think before they post something.
What can I do as a parent?
We have some suggestions for how parents can take the wheel when it comes to your children’s digital activity. You can also take a stand against cyberbullying by doing the following:
- Monitor your children’s digital and online interactions.
- Check what they post, the apps they use, and the sites they visit.
- Know the social media accounts your kids are using.
- Know your kids’ passwords to their cell phones and social media accounts — at least for young kids and preteens.
- Use the privacy and security settings on all devices, apps, and websites.
- Talk to your kids about their social media use, their feelings, and their friends.
- Create technology or “tech” contracts.
- Keep computers and other electronics in common spaces.
Cyberbullying is a serious matter. Know what to look for, take precautions to prevent it, and be prepared to step in to stop it.
- Teaching Kids to Be Smart About Social Media (Nemours’ KidsHealth.org)
- Cyberbullying (StopBullying.gov)
- Cyberbullying Resources (Cyberbullying Research Center)
- Our Family Toolbox (Common Sense Media)
- Understanding the Internet “Rules of the Road” (Healthychildren.org, from the American Academy of Pediatrics)