My Child is Being Cyberbullied – What Parents Can Do?
“YOU BETTER HIDE, BECAUSE WHEN I FIND YOU…”
You would never want to see statements like these appear on your child’s computer, laptop or smartphone. Sadly, this is an unfortunate reality for many and there is no discrimination. It has been experienced by children, teens and parents alike. Such harassment has been classified as cyberbullying. It is online abuse that can plague a target (victim) relentlessly and in this day and age in the most public of arenas.
Cyberbullying can be much worse than face-to-face bullying. The main reason is that in this day and age there is no place to truly run or hide. With the ever increasing ways to access social media through mobile devices, we must be aware of the ways the internet can be used to inflict harm. Internet access and the use of mobile devices are becoming a staple for every child and teenager. The nature of these connections means that harassment can be 24/7, and can easily make its way into your child’s room and headspace. This provides a new world of bullying – easier, accessible and anonymous! These traits make it a far more insidious and prevalent problem. There are a lot of wannabe tough people hiding behind their screens and profile handles.
The truth is, socializing online will only increase as technology advances. In order to best prepare for this reality, we must take steps to educate our children on internet safety and how to protect themselves in that medium. We also must be ready to talk about what may be the elephant in the room – cyberbullying.
WHAT IS CYBERBULLYING?
Cyberbullying is any harassment, stalking or hacking that takes place online. As an activity, it has victims, offenders and bystanders. Although physically hands-off by nature, it is just as detrimental (if not more so) to the victim as being bullied face-to-face.
- Posting pictures, messages or texts with the intention of humiliating someone.
- Sending threatening or hateful messages by email, text or social media – either privately or publicly.
- Sharing or forwarding embarrassing or hurtful comments or pictures to others
- Creating online rating pages where negative and mean-spirited comments can be made about others.
- Gaining someone’s trust,then spreading their personal information online.
- Hacking into someone’s account and creating embarrassing or offending content.
- Using someone’s password to access their email or social media accounts to impersonate them.
Trolling is a broadly used term that covers a wide range of negative online behavior. At it’s root, the intention of trolling is to upset and cause a reaction. This can be done within comment threads for example by either posting irrelevant comments or inflammatory posts. Trolling becomes cyberbullying when it maliciously targets a person or group.
Social media sites are online communication tools that allow your child to create, read and share content. This includes their own messages, photos and videos, or items shared by others. Social media can be awesome if used as intended, but it can easily be transformed into a weapon. It is not for the squeamish. The optional anonymity makes it a perfect channel for bullies to spew online vitriol. Anyone can create a social media profile, under any name – real or fake. They can use their own name or even your child’s name depending on their intentions.
Later down, we will list ways you can help your child protect themselves on social media. Right now, you should be aware of all the different sites available to your child. Note, by the time you finish reading this article, new social media sites and apps may have emerged. A comprehensive list at this time, is still by no means complete.
Some popular sites include:
- Google Plus
BULLIES AND CYBERBULLIES
What makes someone turn to bullying as an extra-curricular activity? By understand this we can take preventive measures to not create circumstances that allow bullies to emerge.
General strain theory, proposed by criminologist Robert Agnew, draws a correlation between criminal or deviant behaviour and the strain people experience in their lives. General strain theory suggests that people under strain feel anger, depression, frustration and other stressors. These stressful emotions can lead to undesirable behaviour, such as bullying. Bullying becomes the outlet for negative emotions.
The theory as it applies to bullying, was tested in study carried out by Dr. Justin Patchin and Dr. Sameer Hinduja of the Cyberbullying Research Center. Their findings supported that kids who were undergoing strain, emotional, academic, domestic or financial, were more likely to engage in bullying behaviour.
More worrisome, is that children who may have been hesitant to initiate face-to-face bullying, were emboldened by the anonymity of cyberbullying. These cyberbullies could sidestep any voice of conscience or good judgement and act immediately with a few keystrokes. Children who may have thought twice about bullying for fear or retribution, could do so freely, without any personal responsibility under the cloak of anonymity
Cyberbullying is quick, accessible and provides instant gratification to the bully.
Patchin and Hinduja echoed the call by bullying expert, Dan Olweus, to provide training programs in the schools that would prevent or address the circumstances that create bullies in the first place.
This call to teach emotional and health skills in vulnerable children, can circumvent some cases of bullying behaviour. More so, it recognizes that mental health issues are likely to be present in the bully and not attributed falsely to the victim, as they often are.
Cyberbullying encompasses the assertions of general strain theory, and is characterized by additional motivations identified by researchers and academics. These include the need for revenge, attention, pleasure-seeking, boredom and a desire to disrupt online communities.
CYBER IS CREATING NEW BULLIES
Cyberbullying involves a whole new set of players than face-to-face bullying. New bullies have been created. Kids who are reluctant to own their bullying behaviour turn to cyberbullying.
The notion of cyberspace creating new bullies was examined by V. Kubiszeuski, a French psychologist. Her research supports the idea that children who are being bullied online are not the same ones that are being bullied face-to face. Bully-victims is the term used to identify bullies who are victims themselves, past or present. These bully-victims may be too scared or too timid to fight face-to-face. The power of the internet and anonymity again permits them to lash out at their harasser with a sense of security, safety and distance. Some justify this as a way to ‘levels the playing field’ thus allowing the weak to strike back. Unfortunately bully-victims experience high levels of behaviour and psychological problems. This type of retribution is dangerous and should not be encouraged.
IS MY CHILD BEING CYBERBULLIED?
Your child may be reluctant to tell you if they are being harassed or bullied online. They may be afraid of getting devices such as phones or laptops taken away or worse having to deal with you constantly looking over their shoulder. Some kids may even feel that they somehow invited the nasty comments or posts by posting something that caused the reaction.
Whether you are concerned or not, look out for these red flags as a sign that your child may be a victim of cyberbullying:
- Your child is spending more time than usual on social media; or
- Your child seems to instead be avoiding using their devices – laptops, computers or smartphones.
- Your child shuts down or closes their devices when you walk into the room.
- Your child avoids talking to you about their online activities.
- Your child seem upset after checking their texts or messages.
- They delete or remove themselves from social media accounts for no apparent reason.
- They block people or numbers from their accounts.
If numerous unknown texts or email addresses start appearing on your child’s devices – ask them about it!
Some signs are also found in cases of face-to-face bullying:
- They withdraw from family and friends.
- They are hesitant to go to school.
- They have emotional symptoms such as sadness, anger and frustration.
- They have physical symptoms such as stomach-aches, headaches and sleep problems.
If you suspect your child is being cyberbullied and is keeping it from you, approach it indirectly. Ask them if they know anybody who has been cyberbullied or bring up a news story to discuss. Gage their reactions and probe if needed.
STEPS TO TAKE IF YOUR CHILD IS BEING CYBERBULLIED
It may be shocking, and certainly upsetting to discover that your child is being cyberbullied. As a first, it presents a new realm for you to understand and maneuver. You may know how to handle a bully at school, but how do you handle a cyberbully?
1. Get the Whole Story
As with other types of bullying, you want to gather as much information as you can. You will find little success by overreacting or getting angry in front of your child. You need to be an emotional anchor for them and provide a sense of calm. Overreacting may cause them to shut down and attempt to hide any further bullying or details from you. Stay calm, get your child talking (indirect questions), and listen.
- Tell them cyberbullying is bullying- it is unacceptable and must be stopped.
- Tell them that now that you know you have their back. You will help them take steps to deal with the cyberbullying.
- Avoid blaming the amount of time they spend on their devices. As tempting as this is, it wrongly puts the blame on your child for becoming a victim. Also, whether we like it or not it is a real and growing part of our lives. I mean how many social media accounts do you have?
- Tell your child not to reply or respond to the bullying messages or posts.
- Block the person, people or group from all their social media accounts.
- Tell you child not to share or forward the bullying messages, posts or pictures to anyone. When you become a part of the problem you are the problem.
- Be aware that kids will set up fake accounts and multiple accounts. Cover them all.
2. Document It
Have your child give you all the material that relates to the cyberbullying. This includes any emails, texts, posts and photos. Feel free to print a hard copy of whatever you can for your records, and note the date and times sent. If you think it is worth it, go for it.
Change or delete for now, all social media profiles and email addresses. You may want to consider changing your child’s cell phone number.
3. Report It to Digital Service Providers
It is important to understand and contact whoever needs to know as well as people that can help end it?
Your internet service provider
Start by contacting the company that you are purchasing your internet services from. Most service providers have policies to address online harassment. Ask them if they want evidence of the bullying. They can issue a warning or even terminate the offender’s account if they happen to share the same service provider.
Your cell phone company
If your cell phone company is different than your internet provider they need to be notified as well. If your child is getting bullied on their smartphones, the company can again issue a warning or terminate the offenders account. Find out what their policies are and then ask that they be enforced.
Social networking sites
You may have cast a wide net here, as new social media sites seem to pop up frequently and spread quickly. Many have reporting procedures and policies in place. Go through all the sites your child is affiliated with and report it through the proper channels. Refer to the list of sites earlier in this post.
4. Remove Photos from the Internet
It is no doubt disconcerting and upsetting to imagine or witness offending photos of your child online. Same goes for any ‘leaked’ photos your child did not wish to share. Take action to have them removed by following the steps outlined at NeedHelpNow.ca.
Note! Any photos that have been circulated and shared have already been viewed and may have been permanently saved with a screenshot! Removing them off social media sites does not mean that they are not still available on someone’s device.
5. Report It to the School
Schools have started putting cyberbullying policies in place to serve their students. Smartphones and personal laptops have become as common as pens and pencils in schools. Some schools are embracing this technology and are WiFi ready, making internet access available in all parts of the building.
Talk to your child’s teacher and principal:
- Let them know if the bullying is taking place during school hours. They can keep their eyes open for students who may be sending out offending messages.
- Confirm that your child is not being bullied face-to-face as well. Ask the teachers if there are any issues between your child and any of their peers.
- Ask the teachers to communicate any changes in your child’s behavior or grades.
- If you know the identity of the cyberbully, ask the school administration to intervene or mediate.
6. Report It to the Authorities
Cyberbullying can be a crime, and should be reported to the police. Your locality should have passed, or legislated cyberbullying laws by now. Some criminal acts include:
- Taking-on someone’s identity and impersonating them on social media sites.
- Sending threats of physical harm.
- Online stalking or harassing leading one to fears for their safety.
- Posting or sharing sexually explicit photos of a minor (under the age of 18).
WHAT CAN YOUR CHILD DO?
Regardless of age, you child may not come to you with their issue immediately. When they do, arm them with some best practices and let the know that you will always support and protect them. Feel free to also proactively discuss cyberbullying best practices with your child. It could provide them with an opportunity to help a classmate or peer.
What do you start with? Do:
- Have them learn how to use and set proper privacy settings on their devices and profiles. Social media sites have different privacy options, some more restrictive than others. Encourage your child to keep content at the highest privacy setting available that still meets their basic needs.
- Urge them to think about what messages or pictures they are posting, sharing and liking. Content can be shared, forwarded and kept for years to come!
- Strongly discourage any flirtatious picture or posts to anyone! They may regret it later.
- Stress not to disclose personal details on public forums. This includes address, phone number, birthday and even what school they attend.
- Make it a practice to log out of accounts. When left open, their accounts are at risk of being available to anyone who comes across the device. This situate makes evidence harder to come by.
- Advise them not to divulge passwords to anyone, including best friends.
- Have your child schedule and run a routine name search. Help your child search their name in Google, Yahoo, Bing and other sites to ensure that no personal information about them comes up. Be sure to check images as well.
- Take steps to remove any content that makes them vulnerable to cyberbullying or stalking. Have them ask themselves if it could somehow be used against them.
Just as there are bystanders in traditional bullying, there are bystanders in cyberbullying. Like the bystanders in the cyber world, they too have the power to perpetuate the bullying. They can speak up and end the torment for the victim. These users do not create the humiliating or harassing text or photo. However, they are the ones who read it, share it or added to it in some capacity.
In traditional bullying, the passive bystander witnesses the bullying and does not intervene. In fact, they keep their distance and avoid any responsibility. This is the equivalent to reading or viewing posts targeting someone online, and not taking any steps to stop it. The bystander may unwisely feel that they are not causing any harm since they are not actively contributing to the posts. Nevertheless, they are allowing it to continue by ignoring it. That contributes to the case.
The active bystander online parallels the role of the active bystander in face-to-face bullying. They encourage and reward the bully by providing comments, re-posting, forwarding or sharing the messages. They are doing great harm to the victim in spreading the humiliating or harassing posts to a wider audience. As with the cyberbully who feels emboldened by the ease and anonymity of the internet, the active bystander who may not otherwise participate in traditional bullying may not think twice about clicking. It doesn’t take much time to do so.
As in face-to-face bullying, bystanders have an important role to play in cyberbullying. However, unlike in traditional bullying the passive bystander has no excuse NOT to speak up or alert the proper adults. The main reason for staying away and silent in bullying was the fear of being associated with the victim and having the attention tuned on them. This is circumvented bycyberbullying cases, as the bystander does not have to show themselves to the bully! There is no excuse for not reporting any abuse witnessed online!
Bystanders can make a difference by refusing to pass on negative posts, refusing to share images, by calling the cyberbully out, or by reporting it.
Educate, Inform and Empathize
“Extreme Mean” by Paula Todd makes mention of a study focusing on affective and cognitive empathy which led to notable results. The study examined empathy of schoolkids, before and after viewing an anti-bullying video. The video was a compilation of the effects of cyberbullying on victims.
Affect empathy is the emotional response to someone’s pain. It is empathetic and can cause distress for the person empathizing as they feel the suffering or anguish of the victim.
Cognitive empathy is a deliberate decision to understand how someone feels in a given situation. It is an acquired skill, but it is no less compassionate than affective empathy.
The results showed an increase in both types of empathy, after watching the video. This is meaningful. Tapping into empathy, can reduce the chances of being a bystander, as well as increasing the likelihood of becoming an upstander.
Arm Your Child with the Tools to Prevent and Recognize Cyberbullying Before You Put a Device in Their Hands
Cyberbullies do not witness the pain they are inflicting the moment they do it nor are they privy to the sense of constant fear induced in their victims. This arms-length bullying makes it easier to be increasingly vicious and to continue the attacks. Some bullies may not realize the impact on their victims, since it is not face-to-face. Bystanders may not be aware that they are too contributing to the online abuse, by sharing or ‘liking’ a post at someone’s expense. An anonymous bully can be unnerving since victims do not know when or where the bullying will occur. Inform, educate, and protect your child from becoming a victim of cyberbullying.
To conclude, we leave you with this video from Common Sense Media.