The internet is a wonderful tool for learning, entertainment, and keeping in touch with friends and family. But it has its potential downsides as well –for example, it can provide another environment for bullying. While bullying is typically thought of as a schoolyard activity that ends when the recess bell rings, the internet has made it possible for bullying to come home with kids after the school day is done.
What is cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying is bullying that happens through the use of electronic technology. According to StopBullying.gov, cyberbullying can include mean text messages or emails, rumors spread on social media sites and other websites, impersonation and the creation of fake social profiles, and compromising or embarrassing photos, videos, and messages being posted. With the internet literally at your child’s fingertips, cyberbullying can happen anytime, anywhere—even in the comfort of your home.
Cyberbullying is more prevalent than you might think. For instance, the 2013-2014 School Crime Supplement suggests that 7% of students in grades 6-12 experienced cyberbullying. And the 2013 Youth Risk Behavior Survey indicates that 15% of students in grades 9-12 were electronically bullied in the past year.
The effects of cyberbullying
Cyberbullying can have a significant impact on your child’s health and well-being. Kids who are the victims of cyberbullying are more likely to skip or be unwilling to attend school, use drugs or alcohol, receive poor grades, have lower self-esteem, and have more health problems.
Is your child being cyberbullied?
Because many kids and teenagers are hesitant to confide in their parents, it may seem difficult to figure out if your child might be the victim of cyberbullying. Here are a few things to look out for that could indicate a problem like cyberbullying is affecting your child:
- Your child is unwilling to go to school, gets into trouble at school, and/or their grades drop
- They seem nervous when receiving text messages or emails
- They show signs of stress, depression, or aggressive behavior
- They are unusually secretive about their online activity
- They seem particularly moody, angry, or sad, especially after going online
- They ask to have one of their social media sites shut down
- Strangers have opened social media accounts in their name
- Many new email address, phone numbers, or texts appear on their phone or email account
- They withdraw from friends or family in real life, or from activities they once enjoyed
- They suddenly change groups of friends
- They have trouble sleeping
- They experience unusual weight loss or gain
- They suddenly stop using the computer—or are using it much more than usual
- They hurt themselves, express suicidal thoughts, or make suicide attempts
What to do if your child is being cyberbullied
StopBullying.gov recommends these best practices:
- Avoid responding to cyberbullying messages
- Record evidence of cyberbullying that occurs. For example, record times, dates, and descriptions of incidents; save and print emails, screenshots, and text messages.
- When possible, block people who are cyberbullying you/your child
- Report cyberbullying to web and cell phone service providers, as well as to your child’s school
- If the cyberbullying involves the following activities, it is considered a crime and should be reported to law enforcement: threats of violence, sending sexually explicit messages or photos, taking photos or videos of someone in a place where they should be able to expect privacy, stalking, hate crimes
Also, take steps to prevent cyberbullying from affecting your child:
- Be aware of what your child is doing online—talk to your child about what sites they visit and what activities they engage in
- Set rules about technology usage
- Remind your child to be smart about what they post on social media
- Ask to friend or follow your child on their social media sites
- Encourage your child to tell you immediately if you or one of their friends is being cyberbullied
- If necessary, consider asking your child for their social media passwords to monitor their accounts, or install parental control filtering software on the computer and other devices
For Health Advocate Members
If you have access to the Health Advocate EAP+Work/Life program and you or your child are a target of harassment, your Health Advocate Licensed Professional Counselor can offer you free, confidential support and suggest the next steps. Remember, we are here to help with any family, work or life problems you may have. In a crisis, emergency help is available 24/7.