Guest Post by Laura Pearson
Throughout our school years, we’ve all experienced some sort of bullying. Unfortunately, technology provides a completely new playing field for bullying. Children use technology regularly, whether it is text messages with their friends, social media such as Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat, or even chat rooms. The reality is that children are engaged more than ever, so as parents and caregivers, it is important for you to stay engaged in your child’s cyberlife, even if it is already hard enough to stay updated on their daily life.
What is Cyberbullying?
If you aren’t already familiar with the term cyberbullying, it is one you should make an effort to understand. Put simply, cyberbullying is the use of technology (in all of its various forms), to threaten, harass, embarrass, or otherwise target another individual. It can be glaringly obvious, such as the mean text or tweet your child shows you, or sneakier, such as a cyberbully using a fake profile to post photos, videos, or information intended to embarrass your child.
Keep in mind that cyberbullying can be paired with more specific bullying such as microaggressions, which are “commonplace daily verbal, behavioral, and environmental indignities, whether intentional or unintentional, that communicate hostile, derogatory or negative slights and insults to the target person or group.” Microagressions can be further broken down into three categories:
- Microassault – Verbal and non-verbal attack meant to hurt via name-calling, avoidance, or purposeful discrimination. Ex.) Your child being avoided or made fun of at school or online for having a disability or being called names because they struggle with classwork.
- Microinsult – Verbal communication that is rude and insensitive, demeaning a person’s identity. Ex.) A child who is Asian American or Hispanic being complimented on their good English, or being asked where they are from.
- Microinvalidation – Verbal communication that excludes or negates the feelings and experiences of another person. Ex.) Someone saying, “I don’t see color” or someone telling your child they don’t see him or her as Chinese.
The Stats are Disheartening
Unfortunately, cyberbullying is becoming quite common, as demonstrated by these statistics from 2014:
- 52 percent of young people admit to being a victim of cyberbullying
- 20 percent are regular and repeat victims
- 25 percent of young people have been cyberbullied via cellphone or Internet, 11 percent via photographs, and 10 percent via hate terms directed specifically toward them online
- Unfortunately, only 6 percent of parents are aware of the scope and intensity of cyberbullying
Unless your child approaches you about cyberbullying, you may not be aware it is going on. Look for signs such as your child being secretive about their online habits, avoidance of school and social activities, changes in mood, behavior, sleep, and appetite, wanting to disengage from the computer or their cellphone, or becoming upset after using any form of technology. Cyberbullying can have detrimental effects, such as depression and anxiety, making it imperative that you keep the conversation open with your child.
What You Can Do
Now that you understand cyberbullying and have seen the facts, you are probably scrambling to find ways to make sure this doesn’t happen to your child, and if it does, what in the world you can do to stop it. First and foremost, make sure your child understands that they never have to deal with anything alone, and asking for help shows strength and courage. You can help them with cyberbullying, but it all starts with speaking up. Encourage them to be proactive by using privacy settings, blocking harassers, and making use of the reporting systems most sites have in place to anonymously report cyberbullying. Turn a negative experience into a positive coping strategy by starting a blog together, or volunteering with a local youth group. Together, you and your child can bring a voice, no matter how small, to cyberbullying and show others how to treat one another with kindness and respect.
If your child is reluctant to open up to you, employ other protective measures such as using monitoring services or using a web-rules contract to set boundaries as to where your child can and can’t go online. Consider placing the computer in a public room, such as the living room, so you can keep a watchful eye. Even if you can’t get your child to open up, try to broach the subject in a different way such as asking what cool sites there are online.
Cyberbullying is a serious issue with serious consequences. Take a moment to have a conversation with your child and learn more about their cyber footprints. Find the best way to monitor your child’s online activity and check in often to ensure their online habits aren’t harmful.