9 Steps to Help Parents Deal with Cyber Bullying

Written By Gina Badalaty

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Being mocked and bullied online can be particularly hurtful to a child, who may feel as if there is no escape from the ridicule. But, how can you tell if your child is dealing with cyber bullying? If you are certain that your child is a victim, it’s time for you to get involved to protect your child and learn when you should get the school involved in cyberbullying.

Dealing with cyber bullying can be challenging for parents because they may not be aware of the signs. Familiarizing yourself with the signs of bullying can help you spot a problem before it progresses further, and you can step in to take action right away.

Warning Signs of Cyber Bullying

The warning signs of cyber bullying are similar to those of face-to-face bullying, however, the definition of cyber bullying means that hateful or aggressive behavior occurs around time spent online.

A clear indicator that your child may be experiencing cyber bullying is a change in your child’s habits when they are online, such as:

  • Spending much less time on their phone
  • Depressed, angry or disruptive moods 
  • Asking you to block emails or phone numbers 
  • Shutting down their social media accounts 

Keep reading to learn more about the nine steps parents can take if your child is dealing with cyber bullying.

  1. Start by talking.
    While getting all the details sounds like a good idea, your child may not feel entirely comfortable disclosing everything to you. In fact, your questions may feel like an interrogation. Instead, start by talking about your own online experiences, weaving in the good and the bad. Or, recruit one of their peers or someone they look up to. Enlisting the help of a trusted peer can help your child to know that trolls and cyberbullies can happen to anyone.
  2. Teach your child online etiquette.
    One of the best ways to prevent cyber bullying is to make sure that kids know what it is & what it looks like. They should understand what is and isn’t appropriate to say and do online, and that social media rules are important too. Make sure they understand that they, too, must respect others online.

  3. Don’t stalk their social media.
    While it may seem like the best course of action, going behind your child’s back will erode their trust in you. Instead, continue the discussion by getting them to open up about their online activities, like discussing which popular apps they use and what they like about them. You can draw a response from comments like, “You should share that photo” or “Let’s see if your friend is online now.” Discovering more about your teen's screen time and cell phone use will help you discover what they're reluctant to discuss and what makes them anxious.
  4. Limit online access.
    If you see clear behavioral changes around the time your child is online, like anxiety or depression, you may want to limit their access. Set clear rules for screen time, including what to do when problems or uncomfortable situations arise. Using a parental control app can be helpful in monitoring your child's internet use.
  5. Recruit online friends.
    As we all know, Facebook and Twitter arguments can get heated and it’s good to have someone in your corner. Does your child have peers online who “have their back” if they get into an argument? Do they have friends they look up to online that engage with them?
  6. Protect your child offline.
    It’s important to know if your child engages with the bully offline. Is this one of their classmates? Is it someone they met at an extracurricular activity? If so, your child may also be experiencing bullying in the real world and you can address that through the proper authorities (school administration, team captain, etc.)
  7. Don’t engage the bully or their family online.
    Making additional comments on social media will only fan the flames of these incidents and discussions via email can be misconstrued. If you know who is doing the bullying, you can reach out to their parents if you have a relationship with them to discuss calmly -- but be careful before taking this step. Many parents are sensitive about such accusations and meeting face-to-face without a neutral third party may only make things worse.
  8. Report and document misconduct.
    Rule violations can be reported to the social media sites, web host or online system the cyberbullying is happening on. Threats of physical harm, however, should be reported to the police. Be sure to keep screen shots of all comments and images, especially those that are inappropriate, threatening or profane.
  9. Get your child actively engaged offline.
    If a bullied child is alone and friendless, there is potential for them to experience depression and harmful behaviors. Help them find a hobby they like and can share with others, such martial arts, photography or hiking. Finding positive friendships will provide them the support they need to promote healthy self-esteem.

How Can Parents Prevent Cyber Bullying?

Preventing cyber bullying sounds like an impossible feat, but by taking small actions and educating ourselves and our kids about online bullying, it can be managed. StopBullying.Gov states that, "When adults respond quickly and consistently to bullying behavior they send the message that it is not acceptable." This is a great first step for parents, babysitters, caregivers, teachers, coaches and school administrators to do to stopping bullying behavior.

Below are some additional steps parents can take to decrease cyber bullying:

Common Myths About Cyber Bullying

Bullying is just as pervasive in child and teen culture now as it ever was before. Just because it’s always been around, however, doesn’t mean it should be; nor does it mean that the most common ideas about bullying like, "it's just kids being kids" or "I would know if my kid was a bully" hold true.

Quite the contrary, many of the most widely known “facts” about bullying are actually myths. With 20% of students (one in every five) reporting being bullied throughout the school year, it’s important that parents, teachers, students and school administrators get the details straight.

Here are the top seven myths that are commonly believed to be true—but aren’t.

Myth #1: Cyber bullying isn’t as bad as physical bullying.

This myth is outright wrong—in fact, cyber bullying can be even more detrimental than physical bullying because there’s more social isolation involved. What’s more, this form of bullying has become the norm for many teenagers: 38% of teens and young adults reported being a victim of cyber bullying themselves or having a close friend who was a victim, and 20-25% of adolescents have experienced repeated bullying via cell phone or internet.

Cyber bullying has been linked to teen suicide and child and teen depression, making it an important facet of your children’s lives that can’t be ignored. Keep lines of communication open with your kids and make sure to about their lives online. Because kids often keep bullying to themselves, sometimes talking to them isn’t enough. Keep your eyes open to pick up on potential cues that might mean they’re being bullied.

Myth #2: Victims aren’t bullies; bullies aren’t victims.

Often times, bullies are bullied at home by siblings, parents or other family members, and vice versa. This flips the idea that bullies are bullies and victims are victims on its head, which is what we traditionally believe. Because of this, it’s important to create an open environment when dealing with bullies at school. Abuse at home is a serious matter, and bullying could be the first sign that it’s going on when bruises or other signs aren’t apparent or visible.

Myth #3: Bullies are just struggling with self-esteem.

While this is the case for some bullies, many pick on others because they realize it helps keep them maintain a certain social stature, gaining more attention and a wider “circle of power” at school. This is an important myth to address among school staff, counselors and parents because it determines how you manage that bully. If they have low self-esteem, they’ll have different needs than someone who is already confident and well liked around school.

Myth #4: It’s just kids being kids.

Kids are not inherently born with aggression or meanness, it’s something that’s learned, whether from someone else or as a means of coping with other issues. Taking a stand against bullying at school and at home is critical. A no-tolerance policy should be put in place to deter kids from bullying on and offline.

Here are a few ideas for creating this policy, or updating one that’s already in place:

  • Elect an anti-bully ambassador at school, after school activity or within your extended family. This should be an adult that students or kids feel comfortable talking to and may increase the number of victims who report being bullied.
  • Have a specific procedure for speaking with the bully and the victim along with standard forms for recording every detail. This will be important when dealing with future issues with the same kids.
  • Don’t be hostile with the bully. As stated above, this may be a warning sign of potential abuse within the school or at home.
  • Be open and have candid conversations, picking up on signs of what may be causing the bully to act out.

Myth #5: If your child is bullied, you should call the bully’s parents.

If the bullying happened at school, the first thing you should do is bring it to the school’s anti-bully ambassador, school counselor or another administrator’s attention. They will be the ones to address the issue with the bully and the bully’s parents. The school likely has a process in place for handling this, both on the victim and bully side, so it’s important you let them go through those steps.

Request a face-to-face meeting with the administrator who’s dealing with the issue and follow-up immediately after and if issues arise again.

Myth #6: Bullying is easy to see.

Quite the contrary, both the bully and victim are likely to keep the events to themselves, especially the bully who wants to avoid getting in trouble. Often, bullies are smart, manipulative and talented. They know to strike when adults aren’t around and are often the students that are kind and charming to teachers and other adults. Arm yourself with a parental control app that can you alert you when inappropriate internet searches or questionable content is detected.

Myth #7: Offline bullying always involves physical harm.

The common picture of a bully is one that includes punching, hitting, and pushing against lockers. However, that’s not the only form of bullying that can occur. Emotional and mental abuse is just as common, often referred to as verbal bullying. This may take the form of name-calling, threatening, and rumor spreading.

This type of bullying needs to be handled just as every other incident, with a procedure that addresses issues with the bully, victim and both sets of parents.

Keeping kids safe is our number one priority as parents and that means understanding that access to connected devices can come with benefits and risks. By taking some of the steps outlined here, you can keep an eye out for signs of cyber bullying and take the necessary steps to resolve it.

Need more help dealing with cyber bullying? Download our Cyber Bullying Guidebook for Parents.

About Gina Badalaty

Gina Badalaty is a lifestyle blogger for moms raising kids with special needs. She is passionate about living a nontoxic life, inclusion for kids with disabilities and technology to help kids thrive.

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