What is Cyberbullying? 

Cyberbullying is the use of technology to harass, threaten, embarrass, or target another person. Examples of cyberbullying can include the following: 

  • Sending mean texts or IMs to someone
  • Sharing private photos, videos or messages on social media
  • Pranking someone’s cell phone
  • Hacking into someone’s gaming or social networking profile
  • Being rude or mean to someone in an online game
  • Spreading secrets or rumors about people online
  • Pretending to be someone else to spread hurtful messages online

Like many other forms of abuse, children and teens are less likely to report being cyberbullied because they don’t understand what is happening, feel embarrassed or are unsure how to handle the situation. The Pew Research Center studies about cyberbullying rates have found that about 1 in 4 teens have been the victims of cyberbullying, and about 1 in 6 admit to having cyberbullied someone. 

Why is it hurtful? 

Much like the bullying we all know, cyberbullying hurts. In some ways it can cause more hurt than face-to-face bullying because it’s public and many people can see it, causing it to spread quickly. Cyberbullying can also cause low self esteem and inflict feelings of loneliness or isolation in children and teens – leading to mental health issues like depression, anxiety and stress.

How to Prevent Cyberbullying

Bullying is no longer only practiced on school playgrounds, but it is also now done digitally on all social media platforms. Talk to your child about cyberbullying and prepare them to interact with others online. Preparing your child to interact with others online by talking to them about what cyberbullying is and how to be an upstander in the cyber community is key to preventing cyberbullying. ‘Understood’, an organization focused on empowering individuals who learn and think differently, offers some helpful tips about how to prevent cyberbullying. 

Champions’ Kids on the Block puppeteers also talks about cyberbullying and being an upstander in the cyber community. Puppets Derek and Nam give real life examples of how cyberbullying can affect someone’s mental health. Watch the video here.

Educate yourself about how and where cyberbullying occurs, and talk with your friends about what they are seeing and experiencing. Maintaining an awareness of your child’s online habits – whether by talking to them about the sites they visit, noticing their activity directly, or both – can also help to ensure good general online behavior and to stop or prevent cyberbullying from happening. 

How to talk about cyberbullying with your child

Once you have a good understanding of cyberbullying, it’s a good idea to speak with your child. You want your child to understand the importance of how cyberbullying can affect someone’s mental health. 

If your child is being cyberbullied, let them know it’s not their fault. If your child is the bully, don’t panic – it’s important to address the issue firmly, but from a place of love so they feel comfortable communicating with you in a way that can help solve the problem. Explain to them how their actions are hurtful to others. Try to learn the root of their actions by talking to your child and other adults with authority in their life. You can seek professional counseling for your child, if needed, to address concerns and help improve their self confidence and social skills. 

Regardless of whether your child is the bully or the one being bullied, reassure them that you will work with them to solve the problem. Showing your child that you care and you are here to help them through their issues instills trust in them to know you will be there to support them through whatever issues they are facing. Here are some topics provided by ‘Raising Children’ you can cover in your conversation with your child: 

  • What cyberbullying looks like – for example, ‘Cyberbullying is sending mean text messages, spreading rumors on social media, ganging up on or deliberately excluding someone in an online game, or sharing an embarrassing photo with other people’.
  • How it might feel to be cyberbullied – for example, ‘Being cyberbullied can make you feel very upset and lonely. It can make you not want to join in activities where the person doing the bullying might be’.
  • The consequences of cyberbullying – for example, ‘People who get cyberbullied can stop doing well at school and feel depressed, anxious or stressed’.

In a world of technology, social media has become a tool that can be used for good and bad. As a parent, you always want to protect your child from anything and everything that may hurt them. While you may not always be able to do so before something happens, you can take steps to prepare them for adversity and confidently be there for them when they hit road bumps in life. Making sure your child has an understanding of what cyberbullying is, why and how it can be hurtful, and ways to prevent it from happening keeps them safe and prepares them to be an upstanding digital citizen. 

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