Gone are the days when you knew your child was safe because they were home with you. With social media, smartphones, tablets, laptops and wireless Internet everywhere, there is almost nowhere your child can hide if someone wants to bully them. The wonders of our modern age have opened up a whole new world for bullies and victims and the terrain is frightening and dangerous.
Welcome to the age of cyberbullying, where calling names and pushing someone around on the playground has progressed to unrelenting smear campaigns (often involving embarrassing photos), hate messages and an onslaught of harassment and even threats lobbed at children and teens by their peers via email, Facebook, text messages, chat rooms, etc. A parent’s best defense is to know what to look for to determine if your child is being bullied or if they may be the perpetrators of cyberbullying for another child.
Here are red flags to look for that may mean your teen is involved in cyberbullying, either as victim or perpetrator.
5 Red Flags That Your Teen Might Be a Victim of Cyberbullying
1. Going Offline
If your child goes from being glued to their phone/tablet to avoiding it, you need to take note. Any sudden, drastic change in online behavior is a warning sign your teen might be receiving nasty messages and experiencing other harassment online.
2. Mood Swings
If your child is unusually irritable, angry or withdrawn after being online or texting, cyberbullying could be the cause. Don’t simply chalk up bad moods related to computer or cell phone usage to typical teenage moodiness.
3. Sticking Close to Home
When your teen’s busy social calendar suddenly slows down and you find them making excuses to avoid usually-favorite activities and social situations, the cause could be cyberbullying. Not only is bullying happening online, but those same people could be targeting your child in person as well.
4. Eating Their Feelings
Changes in appetite are one of the most common signs something isn’t right with your child. Whether they start skipping dinner or you catch them binge eating after school, changes in eating habits need to be taken seriously.
5. Slipping Grades
Academic performance is often an indicator of how your child is doing overall. Parents often worry about drug use or other issues when grades start to go downhill, but poor grades and missing assignments can indicate depression as a result of bullying as well.
5 Red Flags That Your Teen Might Be a Cyberbully
1. Obsessive Online Usage
Your teen is online all hours of the day and night, and is extremely irritated if you interrupt them while they’re on the computer or phone. Pay special attention if your child is using the Internet after everyone else in the house is asleep.
2. Keeping Secrets
If your child quickly changes the screen, hides their phone or closes windows when you walk by it can be a sign that they are doing things they shouldn’t be doing. Be extra diligent if your teen seems determined to hide their screen from you or avoids discussion about what they’re doing online.
3. Multiple Social Networking Accounts
There’s no reason your teen needs to be on every social networking site in existence. Teens who are on an excessive number of sites might be using the accounts to stalk and harass other kids who are on those sites, rather than just to keep up with their circle of friends.
4. Snarky Behavior
Rude laughter or comments during online sessions or while texting can be a signal that your child isn’t being nice to the kids that they are interacting with via social media, email or text. If you hear tones of sarcasm or nasty comments, perk up your ears to make sure your child isn’t picking on someone else.
5. Ganging Up
Your child’s friends can provide insight into the inner workings of your teen. If you notice the people your child is hanging out with seem mean, aggressive and inconsiderate of others, it could be a sign your child is engaging in bullying behavior to fit in with their new social circle.
What You Can Do
Parents are not helpless when it comes to cyberbullying. It is heartbreaking on both sides of the equation, whether your child is a victim or is behaving aggressively toward others. No matter where your teen fits, the most important thing is to open the lines of communication and create a safe space for your child to talk about cyberbullying. Kids who are bullied and kids who bully often struggle with the same challenges of low self-esteem, depression and peer pressure.
In all cases, online behavior needs to be closely monitored. Limit online time and access to computers, tablets and cell phones. Make sure your child knows that social networking and texting are privileges and that their behavior will be monitored and abuse of the privilege will result in consequences like taking away a phone or iPad.
Communication with teachers and other parents is also crucial. If you suspect your child of bullying behavior, contact the school counselor and work out a plan to help your child cope with whatever is causing the acting out behavior. Likewise, if your child is a victim of cyberbullying, work with the school to make sure your child receives the support and protection they need.
While there’s no easy answer to cyberbullying, with diligence and awareness, parents can make a difference and protect children from this epidemic.
What other ways can cyberbullying be addressed?
The kids are back in school, are you prepared to talk about cyberbullying? Use our infographic, Back to School Cyberbullying, to get informed.