What Is Cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying is an electronic form of communication that uses cyber-technology or digital media to hurt, threaten, embarrass, annoy, blackmail or otherwise target another minor.
Every adult who interacts with kids–parents, educators, librarians, police, pediatricians, coaches, child care givers–must get educated about this lethal new form bullying so you can find ways to stop this horrific trend.
One reason for such a dramatic increase in cyber-abuse is that it’s just so much easier to be cruel when you don’t have to do lash out vicious insinuations face to face and you can do so anonymously!
Where we once thought we just had to protect children from adult predators using the Internet, we now need to shield kids from one another. Cyber-bullying is real.
Many experts confirm that the psychological effects on our children can be as devastating, and may be even more so than traditional bullying. Research proves that when kids are left unsupervised and without behavior expectations traditional bullying thrives. And we may not be doing as good a job as we think.
Though studies vary has to the extent of cyber-bullying and if it is increasing, we know that is clearly concerning to any victim. The one common theme is most studies is that parents are too often unaware that their child is a victim or underestimate how often their child is cyberbullied.
REALITY CHECK: One survey found that while 93 percent of parents feel they have a good idea of what their kids are doing on the Internet; 41 percent of our kids say they don’t share with us what they do or where they go online.
REALITY CHECK: Another student found that while 30% of youths admit to having been cyberbullied, only slightly higher than 10% of their parents reported that they knew. The study also suggested that parents of younger teens — those who believe their child is smarter than others online, or who are not able to monitor their teen’s internet use — are more likely to be unaware that their child has been cyberbullied.
Open up that dialogue with your teen and listen! Know the signs so you can watch for them. And please recognize that your child may not come to you and share his ordeal. Most teens do not! Keep your antennae up. Monitor. Keep the relationships open. And stay educated so you can parent your digital kid.
One of the best sources of information is the Cyberbullying Research Center from Justin Patchin and Sameer Hinduja. Bookmark it on your computer! Also, put Nancy Willard’s book, Cyberbullying and Cyberthreats is also a must to add to your list. (Do also be wary of all the cyber-bullying stats out there which are largely inaccurate or use faulty methodology. The one commonality in studies show that parents too often underestimate how often their children are cyberbullied.
Warning Signs of Cyber Bullying
Tune into your children closer. Look for these possible signs of cyber bullying, but do know there may be others. Please read these warnings carefully.
~ Talk to other parents, teachers, babysitters, counselors, and child workers about the signs as well.
~ Print out the warnings and give them to coaches, scout leaders, Boys and Girls club leaders, doctors, school officials and to teens and tweens.
~ Send a list to the newspaper to print.
~ Ask your child’s school to post a list on their website. Get active! Get your community involved.
Here are 11 signs to watch for that may be warnings that your teen is being cyberbullied (and if not, then any of these signs are red flags to look into).
1. Hesitant to be online or unexpectedly stops or avoids using the computer
2. Nervous when an Instant Message, text or Email appears (Watch your child’s response)
3. Visibly upset, angry, or depressed after using the computer or cell phone
4. Hides or clears the computer screen or cell when you enter or doesn’t want to talk about online activity
5. Starts using the computer when you’re not in the room (a change in pattern)
6. Keeps going back and forth to check screen in shorter spurts
7. Withdraws from friends, wants to avoid school or peer activities or uneasy about going outside in general, pulls away from family members
8. Suddenly sullen, evasive withdrawn, marked change in personality or behavior
9. Trouble sleeping, loss of appetite, excessively moody or crying, seems depressed
10. Suspicious phone calls, e-mails and packages arrives at your home
11. Possible drop in academic performance or falls behind in schoolwork
The key is to look for a pattern in your child. You should not overlook is a sudden change that is not your child’s “normal” behavior that lasts at least everyday for two weeks. But even then, use your instinct! If you are concerned, don’t wait. Get help!
If these signs are not due to cyberbullying they clearly warrant looking into. Something is amiss with your child! Find out what’s going on. Dig deeper. Conference with your child’s teacher, coach, counselor, pediatrician, or seek the help of a trained mental health professional. But don’t think that this behavior is “a phase.” The two saddest words I hear from parents are “IF ONLY!” Get help!
Do not expect your child will come and tell you about the harassment! Research says that chances are that your child will not tell which is why you need to tune in closer and get educated. Studies show that as our kids get old the likelihood they will come to us and “tell” declines even more.
A top reason kids say they aren’t telling adults: “The adult didn’t listen or believe the report when I did tell!” Sigh!
If you suspect your child’s friend or peer is cyber-bullied, report it! For more information see: What to Do If Your Child is Cyberbullied
I carry a photo of a young Canadian boy — a precious sixth grader — who ended his life because of bullying. His father gave me his son’s photo and asked me to promise to keep educating parents about the dangers of bullying. I promised that dad I would keep going and I’ve carried that photo for ten years. It breaks me apart every time I look at that photo.
Tips from this blog were adapted from the chapter, “Cyberbullying” in the chapters “Bullying,” “Bullied,” “Relational Aggression,” “Anger,” “Anxiety,” “Internet Safety,” “Cell Phone Use” inmy book, The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries.
You can also refer to my daily blog, Dr. Borba’s Reality Check for late-breaking news and research about child development.
Follow me on twitter @MicheleBorba
Sahara Byrne, Sherri Jean Katz, Theodore Lee, Daniel Linz, and Mary Mcllrath. Peers, Predators, and Porn: Predicting Parental Underestimation of Children’s Risky Online Experiences. Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, October 2013