How to Help Your Children Avoid Cyberbullying
Bullying isn’t new to this generation, but with the addition of smartphones, the ways of bullying have changed, and more children every year are facing threats, sexual harassment, rumors, and sharing of their private information. According to Pew Research (PRC), one-third of teens online have experienced cyberbullying. So how do teenagers avoid cyberbullying incidents and how do we help cyberbullying victims? Understanding who is at risk and how to handle online harassment is critical when it comes to dealing with cyberbullying.
Who is at Risk?
Certain groups are more likely to face cyberbullying than others. Females suffer at higher rates than males, with 15-17 year-old females experiencing the most cyberbullying at 41%. Other groups that are most at risk include children with special needs, and LGBTQ youth. In a study of LGBTQ youth, 54% of children ages 11 to 22 experienced cyberbullying multiple times. The age of children facing these attacks is younger than many may expect, but with children owning smartphones as young as eight-years-old, these statistics are not unexpected.
The problem of cyberbullying is getting its fair share of attention. Organizations and individuals, like First Lady Melania Trump with her “Be Best” campaign, are doing their part to find ways to advocate for and address the problem. With all the attention focused on this issue, parents are looking for safe spaces online and asking if there’s any way to avoid cyberbullying.
Where does Cyberbullying Happen?
With more and more children owning smartphones, social media is often pointed to when addressing cyberbullying. The ability for children to post and share makes bullying easier than ever and very effective at getting the response they want. Privacy platforms and timers on social media accounts like Snapchat can make children feel like adults won’t see their actions. It’s not only the bullies who think they aren’t being watched. Only 1 in 10 victims will inform an adult about online abuse. Privacy settings on social media can block accounts, but some bullies will continue their online harassment by creating fake accounts on popular social media sites.
Instant Messages and Texts
While stories of adults sending inappropriate texts to children is a parent’s nightmare, a majority of sexual harassment teens face online and by text is from other teens. Examples of cyberbullying via text include harassment through derogatory comments as well as sexual harassment. Young girls are more often the victims in this form of bullying, but teenage boys are not immune. 24% of high-school teens (ages 14-17) and 33% of college-age students have been involved in some form of nude sexting. Sexual harassment can include sexual jokes, comments, rumors, and sending or demanding nude pictures. Not only can these force children into situations they aren’t comfortable with, but they can also cause great embarrassment if shared.
Parents may be surprised by the number of teens still using email, but Pew Research reports that 64% of teens use emails to communicate with friends. The greatest danger with this form of communication is the ability to send private messages to large groups. Sharing an email is as easy. With one click, pictures or passwords can be passed on without a second thought.
Ways to Avoid Cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying is more common than parents realize, and although safe spaces online are few and far between, there are ways to avoid and address cyberbullying:
Block the Bully
Bullies have more access than before, but our children are not without tools. Victims can block the email address, phone number, and social media accounts of bullies. They can also report their harassment to the website or internet service provider. Several laws have been written to protect victims against cyberbullying. Reporting cyberbullying and involving law enforcement is important if the bully is identifiable and there are active threats. Laws against cyberbullying can help protect children and teenagers from unwanted online harassment.
Too many children don’t share cyberbullying with their parents or other adults. Often teens feel ashamed or worried their smartphones and computers would be taken away. Parents can’t force their children to tell them when they’re being harassed, but there are some signs parents can look for:
- Emotional during or after internet or phone use
- Secretive of digital life
- Withdrawal from family, friends, activities
- Slipping grades
- Changes in mood, behavior, sleep, or appetite
- Wanting to stop using their computer or cellphone
- Nervous or jumpy when receiving messages
- Avoiding discussions about computer or cellphone use
The best thing parents and children can do when dealing with cyberbullying is to keep track of the dates and times of the messages. Screenshots of the bully’s message, email, and URL can also be saved. When cyberbullying incidents occur, make sure to document each incident. Parents can use these examples of cyberbullying when reporting cyberbullying to law enforcement.
Don’t Ignore It
Not every child will face cyberbullying, but most will see it happen. Parents should talk to children about not passing on these messages and contacting an adult. It’s important to speak to your children about bullying prevention measures before allowing them to access or create profiles on social media sites. Parents should also talk to children about not passing on these messages and contacting an adult.
Cyberbullying is threatening our children with greater rates of depression, anxiety, and suicide. These will continue to rise if the problem is not addressed. The internet is not always safe, but parents can keep communication channels open with their children and give them the tools to address cyberbullying when it happens to them or someone else. If we handle this problem as a community, the number of victims will fall, and the effects of cyberbullying will be less damaging to our children’s futures.
Susan J. Wood, Director of Mental Health
Susan J. Wood, LMFT is the Director of Mental Health at Children’s Bureau and has over 20 years of experience working with children in a community mental health setting. She joined Children’s Bureau in 2015 as a Program Manager in the Antelope Valley and became the program director in June 2018 where she was instrumental in opening and expanding mental health services to the Santa Clarita Valley and Long Beach.