What can parents do about cyberbullying?

Although many schools and community groups are starting to teach online respect and “netiquette,” cyberbullying remains a very real threat for many teens and even younger children. Surveys have shown that four out of every ten teens (43 percent) have experienced some form of cyberbullying in the past year. For 15- and 16-year-old girls, the figure is higher than 50 percent.

Even if your child regularly turns to you for help on other issues, it’s quite possible she will not want to discuss cyberbullying. Many kids who are cyberbullied worry that their parents will only make things worse, either by escalating the situation or taking away their computer privileges, thereby punishing the victim.

There are numerous warning signs to look out for. Your child may be a victim of cyberbullying if he or she:

  • is hesitant to be online or nervous when an IM, text or e-mail appears;
  • is visibly upset after using the computer or suddenly avoids it;
  • hides or clears the computer screen when you enter the room;
  • withdraws from usual friends, falls behind in schoolwork, or wants to avoid school altogether;
  • exhibits a marked change in personality; is suddenly sullen, evasive or withdrawn;
  • is having trouble sleeping or is not eating well.

The Department of Education, along with other government agencies, recently launched a web site called StopBullying. The site contains a wealth of good advice on cyberbullying for kids, parents and educators. Here are some suggestions for parents when it comes to preventing cyberbullying:

  • Communicate with your child. Talk about cyberbullying. Use press clips or online articles to show them examples of cyberbullying. Ask them if they’ve heard about any cyberbullying incidents at school and listen to any concerns they might have. Encourage them to talk to you about their online experiences.
  • Be aware of what your child is doing online. Familiarize yourself with the technology your child uses the web sites he or she visits.
  • Develop and enforce rules. Work together to develop an understanding of when computers and smartphones can be used, and what is appropriate – and inappropriate – online behavior.  Be consistent in how the rules are applied.

If you believe your child is the victim of cyberbullying, here’s how you can help:

  • Talk with your child. Don’t just ignore the problem and hope it will go away. Tell your child that you are there to help in any way you can.
  • Tell your child not to respond to the cyberbullies. Responding or engaging the bullies can often make the situation worse.
  • Empathize with your child. Let them know they did nothing wrong and it’s not their fault. Don’t suggest they must have done something to provoke the situation or are in any way responsible.
  • Work together to find solutions. Ask your child how you can help. Show your child how to block the cyberbullies or change his or her e-mail address to avoid further contact. If the bullying takes place on Facebook or another social network, consider filing a complaint.
  • Document  the cyberbullying. Take notes and keep copies of e-mails and web posts, so you have a record of the cyberbullying. Check the bullies’ other online activity to see if anyone else is affected.
  • Contact law enforcement. Immediately contact law enforcement if the cyberbullying becomes threatening or if you feel your child’s privacy has been invaded. Your child’s safety is always the number one priority.

One last thing – as a parent, stop for a moment to consider if your child is doing the bullying rather than being on the receiving end. The obligation to eliminate cyberbullying rests with all of us, including the parents of the bullies.

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