Social media use has been on the rise for young people, with most teens spending almost nine hours a day using digital entertainment according to a study by Common Sense Media. In conjunction, the rates of cyberbullying are steadily rising. It's important to understand what cyberbullying is, what you as a parent can do to help kids who are experiencing cyberbullying, and what kids and teens can do when they witness or face cyberbullying.
What Is Cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying is bullying that takes place in the virtual world through social media, texting, and using digital devices. It involves sending, sharing, or posting negative, harmful, or hurtful content about someone online. Cyberbullying can look like:
- Posting hurtful comments or rumors.
- Telling someone to harm or kill themselves.
- Sharing mean pictures or videos.
- Leaking one's personal information to make their private life public.
- Creating fake profiles of/about someone.
- Teasing someone for their race, sexuality, religion, or economic status online.
Cyberbullying Is Prevalent
Statistics for cyberbullying and bullying show that these issues continue to rise at alarming rates. In 2019, the School Crime Supplement found that 16% of children in grades 9-12 experienced cyberbullying nationwide. In the same year, a study from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention similarly discovered that almost 16% of high school students experienced some form of electronic bullying within 12 months prior to the study. Social media use has been on the rise for younger age groups for quite some time now, which means that more kids than ever may be subject to cyberbullying through platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat, and message boards for popular video game sites.
Differences Between Cyberbullying and Teasing
It's important to note that teasing and bullying are different for many reasons, one of them being that teasing is often playful and serves as a way for kids to bond with one another. If teasing becomes hurtful, is intended to cause harm to others, and occurs over and over again, then it can become bullying. Intention is really important in distinguishing between teasing and bullying. Some helpful questions you can ask your kids and teens to get a better understanding of whether they are experiencing bullying are:
- Who is teasing you?
- Do you like it when they tease you?
- If you asked them to stop, would they?
- Do you tease them back?
- If you told them that they hurt your feelings, would they say sorry?
Ways for Parents to Stop Cyberbullying
There are many ways that a child can be involved with cyberbullying, whether they are being bullied themselves, are witnessing someone being bullied online, or are the ones bullying others. There are ways that you can get involved and help stop cyberbullying in any of these instances by responding quickly and consistently.
Learn the Signs
One reason why it can be difficult for parents to know that their child is experiencing cyberbullying is because the bullying takes place in the child's private life online. One way for you to gauge whether cyberbullying is affecting your kid's life is by noting any changes in their device usage, such as spending noticeably larger or smaller amounts of time online. Noticing changes in their behavior while using their devices, such as becoming angry while using their device, hiding their screens when you are near, or if they start to lose interest in participating in real-life social activities.
Talk to Your Child
If you notice any warning signs that your child may be involved with cyberbullying, don't be afraid to address it with them. This will give you an opportunity to ask questions about what exactly is happening in their online life, who is involved, and how long it has been going on. It can also be a helpful preventative strategy for parents to address cyberbullying with their children even if they aren't experiencing it, in order to let them know that if they ever do face cyberbullying they can reach out to you about it. It can be very difficult for a child to bring the issue of cyberbullying to you directly, so making the first move may help open up an important dialogue and build trust and rapport with your child.
Document and Report
If your child is experiencing cyberbullying, it's important to document as much of it as possible through screenshots and recordings. There are laws and policies put in place to protect children and others from cyberbullying. In many of these policies, bullying is listed as a repeated behavior, so evidence will be helpful in documenting this. Documentation can also be helpful in reporting the behavior through social media platforms and even to schools. If a child is receiving physical threats or threats of illegal crimes, report it to the police.
When approaching kids about cyberbullying, it's important to remember that this is a sensitive subject, one that can bring with it painful feelings of embarrassment, shame, and isolation. Often, kids do not know who they can turn to when they are being bullied, online or otherwise, for fear of retaliation from their peers. Providing comfort, support, and a judgment-free space for your child before and after their experiences with cyberbullying will allow them to further establish their trust with you, and may increase the odds that they will bring other difficult incidents, including cyberbullying and beyond to your attention in the future. Remember, however upset or distressed you are about the situation, your child that is actually being targeted by cyberbullying is probably even more so.
Setting clear expectations of appropriate digital behavior and informing your kids about internet safety are more ways of preventing your child's involvement in cyberbullying. Talk to your children about the harmful effects of cyberbullying and let them know what kind of content is okay to view and share. Encourage them not to "like" posts that may be hurtful to others, and suggest that they reach out to people they know that were targeted by a mean post to make sure that they are okay. This will help model a positive online environment for your kids.
Ways for Kids and Teens to Stop Cyberbullying
Stopping and preventing cyberbullying isn't just up to parents. There are ways that kids themselves can help bring a stop to online abuse.
Talk About It
It can be a difficult conversation to start, one that brings with it anxiety and fear, and that's okay. Confiding in a close friend is a good way to begin putting an end to the bullying you are experiencing or witnessing. This friend may be able to provide support and comfort, and may even be willing to accompany you to talk to an adult. Spreading awareness of an issue is a great way of breaking the stigma surrounding it, and also allows the bullies themselves to see that they do not have as much power as they previously believed.
Reach Out to an Adult
Finding an adult you trust, such as a coach, family member, or teacher, and opening up to them about what you are going through can be helpful. Maybe you're in a difficult situation that you don't know how to get out of, or maybe you just want someone to listen to you. Either way, an adult may be able to help the situation or put a stop to the bullying directly.
Reporting cyberbullying when you see it happening is one way of showing support for victims of online bullying. Sometimes it can take more than one person reporting an account or a comment before it gets taken down, so you yourself can be the first line of defense and lend a helping hand to someone else you know that is experiencing bullying. Also, supporting and encouraging your friends to report cyberbullying is another way of spreading awareness that may help prevent others from being bullied by the same person.
How to Report Bullying
Reporting an incident of bullying can seem like a daunting task because it requires you to be vulnerable and share with someone else what you are going through. Thankfully, many schools have in place anonymous tip lines where students can send a text message to a predetermined number and explain the situation that they are going through without the fear of a bully retaliating. If your school doesn't have an anonymous tip line, but you still want to remain anonymous as a reporter, you can write a letter to a teacher or guidance counselor at your school and either drop it in their school mailbox or place it on their desk between classes. If you feel comfortable reporting in person, stay after class to talk to a teacher you trust, tell a person in the front office that you need to report an incident of bullying, or schedule a meeting with a guidance counselor directly.
Contact a Helpline for Immediate Support
If you feel like you are not ready to reach out to a friend or adult in person just yet, but find yourself wanting support, reach out to a National Helpline to talk or text with someone immediately that may be able to help and lend an ear. The Crisis Text Line can be reached if you text 'HOME" to 741741, and you can text with a crisis counselor.
Putting a Stop to Cyberbullying
One study conducted by JCR in the past year found that about 50% of kids ages 10-18 have experienced some form of cyberbullying in their lifetime, which means that about half of the children you know may be victims of online abuse. It's important for both parents and kids to take action against cyberbullying whenever they see it around them. They can be difficult and sensitive situations to tackle, but breaking the cycle of bullying is possible.