When to Get the School Involved to Stop Cyberbullying

Written By Susan Wind

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School is supposed to be a place where children learn, socialize, play and grow. The farthest thought from a parent’s mind is their child coming home from school with signs of cyberbullying, like being depressed, withdrawn, hurt, injured or sad.

Unfortunately, we see too many cases of bullying in the schools today, including cyberbullying. Growing up decades ago, when one thought of a bully, they would associate it with the playground or recess time at school or after school. Today, cyberbullying on social media sites and apps, like Snapchat, Whisper, and After School, is widespread and increasingly problematic, due to the increased access to technology and cell phones.

Questions Parents Should Ask About Cyber Bullying

When faced with the issue of bullying in your child's life, you may be unsure of where to begin to address this problem. Parents struggle with this issue daily and some of the questions that they ask are:

  • How did this happen?

  • Who is involved?

  • Does the school know what is going on?

  • What are the other parents doing about this?

  • When should I get the school involved?

  • Should I call the parents of the child who is bullying my child?

While there is no perfect answer to most of these questions, but there are actions that can be taken in order to deal with a bullying incident. If a child is being bullied by another student (even if it takes place outside of the school property) parents and the school needs to address this with all parties involved, as quickly as possible.

How to Spot Victims of Cyberbullying

One of the most common issues is that parents don't always know when their child is being bullied, due to the anonymous nature of cyberbullying. Teachers may be able to detect some of these behaviors, but many times, parents are the last to know and are therefore unable to prevent bullying from happening to their child.

This is one reason why schools (in addition to parents) need to be trained on the warning signs of cyber bullying to quickly spot if a student is being bullied in their classroom. And when bullying is involved, it's incredibly important to have the facts and evidence collected before making any accusations.

Here are a few warning signs of cyberbullying that can help parents and teachers spot problems:

  • Depression

  • Withdrawn from friends/family

  • Grades start decreasing

  • Lack of sleep or sleeping all of the time

  • Weight Loss/Gain

  • Mood swings

  • Fighting more with friends/family

If parents or teachers start to see these signs, start documenting everything. Collecting data on these behaviors, including dates, times, and specific details is needed to help you present your case. It's not always recommended to contact the bully’s parents, since in some cases they may defend their child, deny any allegations and possibly turn the story around on your child.

Effects of Cyberbullying on Kids, Their Grades and Self-Esteem

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, "Cyberbullying is associated with both psychological and physical effects. Anxiety, depression, substance use and suicidal ideation are higher among bullies and victims of cyberbullying than traditional bullying. "Kids who are dealing with bullies and the effects of cyberbullying can have an especially hard time maintaining good grades in school. Read more about how cyberbullying on social media is linked to teen depression.

The psychological and physical effects of cyberbullying can be:

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Trouble concentrating in class
  • Avoiding going to class
  • Skipping school or playing "sick" to stay home

For kids struggling with bullies at school, they may even avoid going to class or skip school in an effort to stay away from their aggressors. If their bullies are anonymous, this may encourage them to stay home from school altogether. Cyber bullying can affect more than just your child's grades - it can affect their mental well-being and self-esteem, leading to restlessness, anxiety, depression and thoughts of suicide.

"Depression is a sizable and growing deadly threat to our U.S. adolescent population," wrote Anne Glowinski and Giuseppe D’Amelio, from Washington University in St. Louis, in a commentary that accompanied a depression study in teens in the medical journal Pediatrics.

How Parents, Teachers, & School Administrators Can Stop Cyber Bullying

Parents, teachers and school administrators can all play a part in keeping elementary, middle school and high school students safe from bullies. Below are a few actions that can help you resolve cyber bullying.

Notice Changes in Behavior

Keep an eye on sudden changes in behavior. If you notice any of the warning signs, start a conversation immediately.

Have Open Communication

Make sure there is two-way open communication between parents, teachers, guidance counselors and other school administrators.

Intervene Immediately

If you witness any type of bullying, intervention should occur immediately.

Get the Facts

Understand the facts of the situation to the best of your ability including who was involved, when the incident occurred, and why this happened.

Document Everything

If online bullying is witnessed, make sure to document what you saw as evidence.

Create a Safe Environment

Encourage kids to speak freely about issues that may make them feel unsafe.

Offer Your Support

Extend support to persons involved in the bullying and also to bystanders or peers who may be aware of it.

How to Break the Culture of Bullying in Sports

Team sports, particularly in school settings, can bring out the worst in coaches, players and parents and many turn a blind eye to bullying in the name of winning championships. Left unresolved, sports bullying can have unforeseen consequences for a team by discouraging students from joining, pressuring others to quit the sport or demoralizing the players.

If your child comes home injured, depressed or demoralized each time they're with their team, there might be more going on than simply a coach setting a high standard. Have we built a culture of bullying in athletics? And how common is sports bullying? Statistics are scarce, but when bullying is viewed as “team building,” many cases go unreported.

It’s clear that as a society, we need to try and break this culture of sports bullying. Here are some suggestions on how to start:

How Parents Can Stop Sports Bullying

Parents also need to curb their behavior. What they model at sporting events will set a child’s guideline on how athletes should behave. This includes behaviors like yelling, cursing, threatening violence or even speech that targets a group.

  • Watch for the signs in your child.
    If your child comes home from a team sport displaying behaviors consistent with being a bullying victim, don’t ignore it. If he comes home with frequent injuries or sicknesses that result from overdoing it, he may be experiencing a bullying coach. Additionally, coaches may require that kids don’t talk about their “techniques,” but an over-exhausted or injured child who won’t talk about what happened at practice could be a red flag. Look for signs of a “code of silence.”
  • Don’t tolerate it.
    We need to stop saying that sports bullying is less important than winning or just “part of the game.” Find out what practice is really like by talking to other parents, team members and coaches. Or, go to a practice if parents are allowed and other parents show up. (You don’t want to make your child stand out by being the only parent at a practice.) If your child is the victim of sports bullying, don’t normalize it as “just what teen athletes do.” Treat it as seriously as you would any other form of bullying.
  • Check with the school.
    Your child’s school may have rules covering team sports, including the behavior of coaches and players. Make sure they are abiding by all the rules. If not, find out if it is because the school is unaware or if they are tolerating bad behavior in order to win championships before taking action.
  • Get involved.
    For younger teams, parents are often invited to help out. Some even recruit coaches. Go ahead and jump in to help organize, or bring snacks, or whatever way you can serve to find out how the team is really operated.
  • Teach your child respect.
    Demeaning the athletic abilities of girls and younger players is disrespectful. While friendly competition does have a dose of “all in good fun,” continually treating some players, especially those who are new, as if they are less valuable teaches a dangerous lesson. Your child will get the most out of sports when they learn that all players matter.

How Coaches and Team Captains Can Stop Sports Bullying

Coaches and captains can use their leadership to make positive and lasting impressions on all the team members, but they also hold great influence over team members. Remember that you are charged with leading a successful team and that includes a mentally and physically healthy team free from the negativity of bullying.

  • Look for the signs in your team.
    Are team members dropping out or not showing for practice? Are kids cringing around older team members or captains - or you? Do new members seem overtired or more prone to injury than older members? You may want to review your leadership methods or investigate if what you see could be called bullying.
  • Eliminate hazing.
    Much of this behavior resembles hazing, which some consider an acceptable practice to build a team. Hazing, however, can have real fallout for the victims from physical injury to loss of self-esteem – all of which can hurt the team at game time. Serious harm can also result in legal issues, lawsuits and court actions that can hurt the team.
  • Involve players in positive team building activities.
    Building a team doesn’t have to mean all work all the time. Get players together off the field with activities that don’t involve the team sport. Off-field camaraderie will build confidence in individual members and can encourage long-term friendships. Or, get your players involved in charitable or community activities and build a memorable team that is valuable to others.
  • Consider yourself a mentor.
    For kids and young adults, athletics is more than just winning championships and trophies. You know that it builds confidence and self-esteem, but did you know it also has been shown to reduce drug usage and build academic skills? It can even benefit college and job applications for team members.

How School Administrators Can Stop Sports Bullying

Ultimately, the responsibility for the safety of the students while on school grounds or at school-sponsored events may fall on you.

  • Discover if there is bullying in your team.
    High team member turnover, excessive complaints from parents and injury levels above the standard can all be red flags. Investigate if these have stemmed from bullying.
  • Set clear guidelines for player and coach behavior.
    The best way to avoid problems from the outset is to set clear guidelines and communicate them to the coaches you hire in advance. Then, discuss unacceptable player behaviors with your team’s staff, ensuring they also have clear guidelines and consequences. Make sure they share those standards with the team.
  • Do not let “winning streaks” blind you to danger. While hiring a winning coach is always attractive, make sure you understand the techniques they’ve used in past positions to make sure they fit your guidelines and school philosophy before you hire them. Focus less on winning and more on the well-being of your students.
  • Don’t be afraid to discipline coaches.
    Setting guidelines is worthless if you won’t enforce them. Keep the bigger picture in mind and do not be afraid to take action to protect the safety of your students and your school.

The common problem of sports bullying in the U.S. is as challenging as cyberbullying or classroom bullying. By promoting a culture that respects others and finding community-oriented ways to build teams, we can overcome this problem and help young athletes grow into responsible, well-guided adults.

4 Additional Tips for Parents to Address Cyber Bullying with Schools

  1. Contact the School Resource Officer
    If your child's school has their own School Resource Officer, contact them immediately. They often have suggestions for handling bullying and the legal advice that parents may need if an incident escalates.
  2. Document the Evidence
    Since bullies often harass their victims online, it's important to screen shot every social media post linked to the cyberbullying, as this will serve as evidence when presented to the school.
  3. Use a Parental Control App
    Using a parental control app that monitors your child's online activity is an essential tool to help families see what's going on in their child’s life.
  4. Keep Open Communication
    Above all else, having an open relationship with your child, their teachers and your child’s school is crucial in order to keep them safe from cyberbullying.

With the increased use of connected devices like tablets and smartphones, kids can be connected easier to family and friends as well as cyber bullies. Being able to monitor their screen time and ensure their safety is crucial to preventing, addressing and stopping cyberbullying in your child’s life. If you are looking for additional cyberbullying resources, check out our Cyberbullying Guidebook for Parents.

About Susan Wind

Susan Wind is a college professor who has provided training to financial institutions all over the U.S. relating to cybercrimes. Her most recent program, Parents kNOwmore is working with schools all over the country, educating students, parents and faculty on social media awareness and cyberbullying.

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