Cyberbullying: Do You Know What To Look For?

cyberbullyingCyberbullying is when a child is tormented, threatened, harassed, humiliated or embarrassed using technology like text messaging, email, instant messaging, blogs, websites and online games.  This isn’t the bullying we experienced as a child.  Unlike traditional bullying, there is no refuge for the victims because cyberbullying goes on 24-hours a day.  It invades a child’s home and is often unrelenting.  One third of American teens and one sixth of tweens have been cyberbullied – that’s 13 million kids! Examples of cyberbullying include:

    • Threatening, malicious or harassing language aimed at another person

    • Sending or forwarding (or posting online) pictures of another person via text message, email, instant messenger with the intent of humiliating or embarrassing them

    • Spreading rumors or gossip about someone

    • Stealing someone’s password(s) and sharing with them with others or logging into their account and editing their profiles and/or images to embarrass the person

    • Stalking someone via email, text messages, instant messenger or online

    • Registering someone else’s email address on websites that will send them spam

    • Using another person’s email, instant messenger or online account to send messages with malicious intent

Cyberbullying often occurs in front of a worldwide audience and there’s no way to control how quickly or how far the bullying spreads once it’s online.  In fact, children that would never have considered bullying someone face-to-face often pile on when the bullying is occurring online.  This happens because they feel detached from the victim since they are confronting their victim face-to-face.  Children often justify their participation in cyberbullying as a way to keep the focus on others rather than it turning on them.

All of us should be talking to our children about cyberbullying and we should be encouraging them to come to us if they experience anything online that makes them feel uncomfortable.  Unfortunately, some kids avoid talking to their parents when they are victims of cyberbullying.  The victims are often afraid that being a “tattle-tail” will just make the bullying worse.  If your child has enough courage to tell you they are being cyberbullied or even if they just hint that it is happening, take it seriously.  Cyberbullying can have a lasting, negative impact on your child, and there have been cases of child suicide linked to cyberbullying.

Signs of Cyberbullying:

    • Your child suddenly stops using computers or mobile phones or video games

    • Your child acts nervous when receiving email, instant messages or text messages

    • Your child seems uneasy about going to school or to school related gatherings

    • Your child starts to withdraw from family or friends.

These may be signs of cyberbullying.  At a minimum these are signals that something is happening in their world, so keep your eyes open.

What To Do If Your Child Is Cyberbullied:

    1. Teach your child to not respond!  Responding will always make the situation worse.

    2. Save the text messages, emails, chats, IMs or webpages in case you need to report it.

    3. Block or ban the bully.  Most technologies give you the ability to block another user.

    4. Set up new accounts.  If many people are involved, it may be necessary to change your child’s mobile number, email address, screennames and user names.

    5. Report the incident(s) to your Internet Service Provider, mobile telephone company or the website operator.  They will take this matter extremely seriously.

    6. If the bullying includes a classmate, talk to your child’s school to see if they can help.

    7. If you feel like your child is in danger, contact your local police.

If your child is living in two households due to a divorce, it is important to speak with your child’s other parent about cyberbullying and to develop a consolidated plan to avoid or address the issue.  It may also be wise to consider the use of a parental intelligence system so you can stay better connected to their digital world.

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