What is it and who may be prone to it?
The Internet has become an inseparable part of modern life as it provides much faster and easier access to needed data and also convenient means to connect with other people. While the advantages are obvious for everyone, many people may suffer from the negative phenomena brought to life by the rise of online social media use. According to Cyberbullying Research Center, almost every fourth teen in the US was bullied or harassed online and the rate continues to increase. Cyberbullies like to keep the anonymity and their primary goal is to harm or frighten their victims and make them feel depressed and powerless because of the more public nature of this type of abusing people. You must be aware and ready to prevent psychological harm to your child especially if he/she belongs to one of the vulnerable groups. In fact, no one is immune from online harassment but belonging to a minority group may be a ground for biases and subsequent cyberbullying. Youth with learning disabilities or other special needs and those who are perceived as “different” based on their race, religion, social status or any other aspect of their personality often find themselves exposed to this threat.
Signs of cyberbullying
Firstly, you need to find out whether your child suffers from bullying. All people are different but there are some common signs that you must not ignore. Your kid is possibly a victim of this dark side of online social life if the following changes can be observed in his or her behavior:
- Hiding all aspects of personal digital life and even devices from you.
- Phone calls or messages from people you don’t know.
- Changes in mood which are similar to depression.
- Decreased self-esteem, irritation and anxiety.
- Avoiding gathering with friends and other social activities.
- Unwillingness to communicate with family members.
- Strange behaviour outside. A kid avoids meeting classmates and talking to them.
- Sleep and appetite problems.
- A decline in school grades.
- Emotional disbalance after using a smartphone or computer.
- Change of habits related to online life such as refusal to check social media.
- Unusual desire to stop using these devices at all without explaining reasons.
The main problem is that the digital life of children and teens is usually almost entirely hidden from their parents. This is mostly related to teens’ online communication. That is why these signs are vital for early detection of the problem and dealing with it.
Listen to your child and allow them to tell the truth
Lack of both respect and understanding are the things that harm victims the most. Thus, you may help your child listening to them. Your complete support, absence of panic, and involving the child in finding a working solution are the first and the most important steps to get rid of online abuses and related consequences. Additionally, you need to praise your child for telling about the existing problem to you as it will encourage sharing all other issues as well and you both will become closer eventually. Finally, show your support and that the situation is not the kid’s fault at all. Your primary and utmost aim is to take care of your child and make their self-esteem higher. You should reveal your own real experience or even some made-up stories about being a victim of bullying. You may also remind that many other people were in the same situation and successfully overcame it. Then, when you built a good rapport with your kid, start developing a solution strategy.
What should be done to deal with the problem?
If you’ve realized that your child is being bullied, then, take the following steps:
- Avoid fast and thoughtless actions as they can make the situation worse for your child. For example, public response or involving authorities may lead to the escalated exclusion of your child from the peers’ community.
- To avoid such consequences, you must involve your child’s perspective and, if possible, someone else’s as well. Cold and emotionless reviewing of all facts will help you to find the best possible way to deal with the issue. Do not forget to inform your child about what exactly are you going to do.
- Do not reply to the abuser. Tell your child that replying to harassing messages will encourage the bully to continue annoying the target. Showing vulnerability leads to more harmful attacks. Thus, ask your child to pretend that all those unpleasant messages, threats, and spreading rumors mean nothing to him/her. Bullies are not interested in harassing if their targets are not getting upset.
- Block the bully electronically. Smart devices have numerous means to block and blacklist emails, texts, calls, or messages from specific senders. Do not forget to report those messages as spam to service providers and prevent all new attempts of contacting the victim using different numbers or social media accounts. It takes seconds to block a new channel of communication so use this option.
- Ask your kid to keep all evidence of being victimized online. The records of annoying messages along with dates and time may be needed in case of possible school investigation.
- Temporarily limit access to technological devices. Some children just cannot stop checking all new messages even though they are hurtful. Consider allowing the child’s use of computer in the places where you can control it. Set parental control options where available. All these actions should be discussed with your child first and you must explain the necessity of temporary control over their online life.
- Do not insist on closing all online accounts of your child. Although online harassing threat will be eliminated, the kid may become isolated or even marginalized in their peers’ context. You will become the cyberbully for your child. Avoid this by all means and do not exclude a young boy or girl from socializing completely.
- Ask your child to add you to “friends” or allow you to “follow” him/her on social media sites. However, do not abuse this option by constant posts or comments on your child’s profile page since you need to just be aware of any possible acts of public cyberbullying and have the possibility to react instantly.
- Make sure that cyberbullying is not the continuation of offline bullying of your child in the peer group or at school. In such a case, removing online channels of communication will not solve the problem. You have to teach your kid how to deal with bullying in the real world or even seek for proper punishment for bullies. Sometimes, the possibility of being suspended from school or sports team may force bullies to stop annoying your child.
- Be ready to take legal actions if you know that an adult is involved in cyber-harassing of your kid. This may be treated as cyberstalking which is the crime and may lead to relevant legal consequences and even jail sentence.
- Please remember though that punishment should not be your primary goal and you must be focused on prevention or elimination of negative psychological and physical effects on your child. Ensure the growth of resilience in your child and finally convince him/her that even such an unpleasant experience is still the lesson in life which makes people stronger.
Are there any precautions?
It is in your power to prevent cyberbullying of your child. And what is important as well, you may prevent your kids from becoming an online bully himself/herself. Explanations of necessity to respect other people while communicating online must be provided along with the first acquaintances of your kid with social media and the Internet under your supervision. You must teach your children that insulting other people online is unacceptable. Develop the responsible Internet use in children so that they will respect other people, not respond to offensive messages, and not stand by while someone else is being harassed. Such lessons will prevent your child from improving his or her self-esteem by harassing other peers. At the same time, the kid will be immune from first attempts to offend him or her as knowing exactly what to do is the first step to prevent the issue from happening.
Moreover, you need to get your child acquainted with the basics of online safety which are especially helpful to prevent cyberbullying from unknown personalities or severe physical harm:
- Do not share passwords and make sure these keys to the online world are strong and safe. Even close friends should not know this information.
- Always sign out of all online accounts as it will prevent possible intrusion.
- Avoid posting personal pictures, tagging locations, and posting updates about intended travels as it may lead to terrible things such as theft or even kidnapping.
- Do not reveal sensitive personal information online, especially personal phone number and home address, to prevent identity theft.
- Never agree to meet someone from “online” friends without approval from the parents’ side.
- Avoid reacting to threats sent via emails, texts, or messages.
- Do not open suspicious messages and emails as they may contain harmful viruses.
- Always consult with parents in case any online conversation appears to have harmful intentions.
- Keep remembering that people may “wear a mask” while communicating online and may not always tell the truth.
All things considered, you need to take your child seriously if you want to prevent cyberbullying and multiple negative consequences of this issue. This phenomenon of contemporary online social life requires both parents and children to be prepared to respond properly to the threats. The only working strategy is to cooperate and be responsible as the exclusion from the online world is not a solution.