Signs Your Child is Being Bullied Online and What to Do About It
You’ve always been really hooked in to your kids. You know their hearts. You know when things are good, and you know when things are wrong. And lately, something seems off a bit. You can’t totally pin it down, but your teen is suffering somehow, and you don’t know why. Of course, like most teens, he doesn’t really want to talk about it, and you don’t want to press him, but you’re concerned. And if you’ve found this article, you may be starting to suspect that he’s being bullied online.
Bullying is a global problem with widespread ramifications. In the United States, between 1 in 4 and 1 in 3 students report being bullied at school according to the National Center for Education Statistics and Bureau of Justice Statistics. Similar survey results are replicated in countries around the world. The effects of bullying can have long-term consequences if they’re not discovered and rectified. Teens who are bullied are at an increased risk for depression and anxiety, health problems, decreased academic performance, dangerous changes in eating and sleep patterns, and a variety of other problems. Your worry about your teen is justified, but there are things you can do right now to begin resolving the situation and getting everyone back on solid ground.
Bullying has been around from the beginning of humanity, but in the past decade, cyberbullying has emerged as such a significant issue that governments all over the world have undertaken great measures to attempt to resolve it. We’ll look at what the United States government is doing to turn the tide in a moment, but first, let’s look at our neighbors to the north, in Canada, where a large anti-cyberbullying initiative has been initiated. In materials made available to Canadian citizens by the government, the Department of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness identifies that one of the key problems facing anti-cyberbullying efforts is that many parents are unprepared to identify signs that their child is being bullied online. In response, they offer these common signs to help parents recognize when a child may be experiencing cyberbullying:
“Your child begins to avoid using their mobile device or computer. Or, conversely, they begin to spend much more time texting, gaming or using social networking sites.
They appear upset, withdrawn or angry after receiving emails, instant messages or text messages.
Your child becomes more secretive about their online activities and avoids conversations that have to do with their computer or mobile device.
Your child is reluctant to leave the house; they begin avoiding social situations they used to enjoy or withdraw from family and friends.
They begin falling behind in school work or their grades go down.
They become reluctant to go to school, or completely refuse.
Your child appears sad, frustrated, impatient or angry much more than usual.
They are having trouble sleeping, or show less interest in eating.
Your child suddenly deletes their social networking profiles and accounts.
A lot of new texts, email addresses or phone numbers begin appearing on your child's phone, laptop or other device.
They block one or more numbers or email addresses from their online accounts or email.”
Of course, no list can be so comprehensive as to give all the signs that your teen may exhibit if he’s being cyberbullied, but this collection provides a good starting place. Above all, trusting your feelings as a parent is always the right approach. You’re entitled to inspiration about what your child needs and how to help him progress.
If you do believe your teen may be experiencing cyberbullying, you’ll want to begin by confirming what you feel. Monitoring his device and social media feeds can help you piece together a picture of what’s really going on.
The Importance of Parental Monitoring
Like Canada, the United States is no stranger to bullying-related issues. In 2011, under the direction of President Barack Obama and his wife, first lady Michelle Obama, the U.S. government introduced a new initiative focused on stamping out bullying in schools, communities, and online. At www.stopbullying.gov, parents can find information and resources designed to help them protect their kids against bullying and cyberbullying. From the site’s perspective, protection against cyberbullying begins with a parental commitment to monitoring teen’s activity online:
“While you may not be able to monitor all of your child’s activities, there are things you can do to prevent cyberbullying and protect your child from harmful digital behavior:
Monitor a teen’s social media sites, apps, and browsing history, if you have concerns that cyberbullying may be occurring.
Review or re-set your child’s phone location and privacy settings.
Follow or friend your teen on social media sites or have another trusted adult do so.
Stay up-to-date on the latest apps, social media platforms, and digital slang used by children and teens.
Know your child’s user names and passwords for email and social media.
Establish rules about appropriate digital behavior, content, and apps.”
With regard to these steps, the U.S. site recognizes that this type of monitoring, while effective, may be too invasive for some teens. The site suggests that some parents may want to investigate the possibility of using third-party monitoring apps and software, as well:
“There are free software options and apps available to help parents restrict content, block domains, or view their children’s online activities, including social media, without looking at their child’s device every day. Most of the free software options provide some features for free, but charge for more robust insight. A parent should consider a child’s age, device use, and digital behavior when selecting software – what is suitable to restrict for a ten-year old may not be useful for a teenager.”
What to Do if Your Child is Being Bullied Online
If you determine that your teen is, in fact, being cyberbullied, there are steps you can take to begin resolving the situation, but it’s important to treat the matter seriously without overreacting. If your teen is going to feel comfortable opening up to you about what he’s dealing with, it’s vital for him to know that you’re not going to make everything worse by getting angry or irrational. The Canadian Department of Public Safety offers these five steps for dealing with cyberbullying issues calmly and systematically:
“Talk with your child about cyberbullying. Listen without over-reacting. Be your child’s advocate without making the situation worse for them.
Report the cyberbullying to digital providers. Your Internet Service Provider is the company you’ve chosen to connect you to the Internet from your home. Most have ‘acceptable use’ policies in place and encourage reports of cyberbullying. If the bully has an account with the same firm, and you can provide evidence of the bullying, the company may issue a warning or even a suspension/termination of the bully’s account if warnings are ignored.
Report the cyberbullying to your child’s school. Even though cyberbullying takes place online, it can disrupt the school environment (children take their mobile devices everywhere with them) and the bullying can be happening face-to-face as well. Learn who to report cyberbullying to at the school. If you know your child's teacher, you may want to approach them first. Or you may want to go to the vice-principal or principal of the school.
Report the cyberbullying to law enforcement. Do not hesitate to contact your local police authorities should the bullying involve any of these behaviors: making any threats of physical harm or violence, sending and sharing sexually explicit or intimate photos of someone under the age of 18, stalking a victim…,hacking into someone else's computer or creating a false social networking page in another persons' name to facilitate the bullying or harassment.
Get outside help to deal with cyberbullying. If your child is showing signs of continued depression, isolation, anxiety, loss of interest in eating or sleeping, or showing any signs of self-harm or thoughts of self-harm, do not hesitate to seek support from a mental health professional.”
If your teen is being bullied online, you can start helping him resolve the situation today. Look carefully at his behavior. Is anything amiss or out of balance? Do you see any of the signs of victimization described above? Or, perhaps, are there other concerning behaviors catching your attention? Again, your intuitions are your most important indicators of what’s going on and what needs to be done. If you’re concerned that cyberbullying may be the cause of your teen’s problems, use some of the account monitoring techniques above to seek deeper understanding. Or, just engage in a simple conversation with your child. Gently and carefully invite him to share what’s going on. Build his trust by asking careful questions and listening attentively. Finally, if you do discover that your teen is a victim of cyberbullying, use the recommendations above as a map for how to proceed. Seek help from your internet or mobile service providers, school officials, local law enforcement, and mental health practitioners. And above all, love your child. He’s still yours. You still know him, and you’re still the best person in the world to help him. Follow your feelings, share your love, and soon, you’ll find the way out of the difficulties you face. You can do this. Love always trumps bullying, and it always will.
Find more information about how to help your child overcome issues related to cyberbullying by visiting the websites referenced in this article:
U.S. Government Initiative
Canadian Government Initiative