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Cyberbullying Tips and Warning Signs for Parents

Cyberbullying Tips and Warning Signs for Parents

No matter its form, whether it be in person or online, bullying is never an interaction parents want for their children. Yet, with the increase in anxiety and separation caused by the coronavirus pandemic, experts have noticed online bullying, otherwise known as cyberbullying, has risen.  

According to early analysis conducted by L1ght, an organization that detects and filters toxic online content, cyberbullying between children and teens dramatically increased by 70 percent at the start of the pandemic. Since this time, with more kids and adults turning to cell phones and other digital platforms to text, post, chat, learn and work via a safe, physical distance from one another, cyberbullying has continued to be a growing concern. 

In many cases, cyberbullying, which is the act of virtually sharing negative, harmful or false information about another person, can be persistent (occurring at any hour of the day, including late-night hours), permanent and hard to notice. Becoming a target of this aggression can affect your child in many ways, including increasing their risk for anxiety, depression, low self-esteem and feelings of helplessness or worthlessness. Additional signs of bullying may include: 

  • A decline in grades or desire to avoid school-related work or activities 

  • Unexplainable injuries or self-destructive behaviors 

  • Losing interest in activities and withdrawing from others 

  • Change in daily habits, such as eating and sleeping  

  • Appearing angry or upset when engaging with their phone or other forms of digital media 

  • Increased mention of headaches and stomachaches 

So, how, as parents, can you protect your children from cyberbullying? The best advice is to INVOLVE yourselves in your child’s interactions by following a few simple steps: 

  • Instill knowledge about proper online etiquette. It’s no surprise that children mirror the actions of their environment. Take time to demonstrate and teach appropriate online behavior by explaining how cyberbullying and hate speech can deeply harm another person. Remind your child that there are consequences for engaging in inappropriate activity and help them understand how to protect themselves by avoiding interaction with online strangers and not giving out personal information or sharing inappropriate photos. Click here for a great resource to help your children understand how to treat and interact with others online.  

  • Nurture open and honest communication. Often, a child who is the target of cyberbullying may not feel comfortable talking to others, including parents. Help your child understand that you are available to talk at any time and that they should never struggle with bullying in silence. Ask meaningful questions in a gentle manner and try to obtain feedback on their feelings. Always create a safe space and remind them that they won’t lose their online privileges based off the actions of others but will if they cause harm to another person through inappropriate interactions. 

  • Validate your child’s self-worth and confidence. Whether your child personally experiences cyberbullying or knows someone who has, make sure to explain that this type of behavior is never about the person being bullied. Rather, it is about issues and circumstances that affect the person who is causing harm, otherwise known as the bully. Remind your child of all of the great characteristics and talents that make them unique and special and encourage them to practice this same activity on friends to boost the confidence of others within their social circle.  

  • Observe your child’s online activity. While many parents are striving to balance working from home and helping with remote learning, it may become easy to lose sight in everything your child is doing online. Take time to observe all online activity by engaging your child in conversation about what they are learning and what sites they are visiting. A best practice is to keep home computers set up in open areas of your home, such as shared family spaces. And remember, while it is important to respect your child’s privacy if you suspect inappropriate online activity, parental monitoring software can be considered an option to help keep your children safe. 

  • Limit screen time for family time. In certain situations, boredom, loneliness or the need for attention can draw a child toward bullying actions. Help distract from these emotions by encouraging family time activities to take the place of excessive screen time. Organize family game nights or create projects where each member of the household receives a role and responsibility to feel valued. The time spent engaging in these activities will not only strengthen your family bond but will create memories to last a lifetime. 

  • Verify that it’s ok to speak up. No matter the situation, encourage your children to speak up if something doesn’t feel right or bothers them. Help them understand that if they are being harassed, bullied or approached by a stranger online, it is safe to tell you immediately. Also, make sure they understand that if another person is targeted by similar actions, you are available to help. In the event of cyberbullying, here are several actions you can take to protect your child and others.   

  • Encourage safe and healthy connections to friends. While socialization is key to the development of children and teens, the pandemic has hindered many in-person gatherings and connections. As parents, take time to encourage your children to keep up with their friends via virtual platforms but remind them to do so in a safe and healthy manner. A few creative ways to engage with others online include hosting a book club, having virtual playdates or baking together via a virtual call. 

As parents, you can help protect your children from the inappropriate actions of others by being present, engaged and involved in their lives. Remember, they are only children for a moment, and the actions you take today will make a significant impact on their journey to becoming adults. 

For additional resources and information on bullying, including guidance on state laws and policies that have been put into effect to protect against this aggressive behavior, visit stopbullying.gov