What is Cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying is a fairly new phenomenon that is gaining momentum amongst teens. Cyberbullying is defined as Internet-based harassment and bullying via: texting, blogs, networking sites, social networks, chat rooms, online video games, etc. There are various forms of cyberbullying, like: threatening emails, hacking into an account, identity theft, threatening or hateful messages, posting compromising or altered photos or videos, creating websites aimed at damaging someone's reputation, etc.
The Snowball Effect
The victim and the perpetrator don't have any control over the situation and can't predict what happens next. For example, when someone posts an image on the Internet, a number of users can save it and use it for other purposes. If the same person decides to remove the image a few hours later, it’s likely that the victim has already been harmed.
Anyone can be a target of cyberbullying. In the online environment, the protective factors of having friends or being in a position of authority doesn’t mean anything. In other words, you can use the internet to bully anyone you choose.
Permanence and a Sense of Anonymity
In the past, bullying happened mainly at school or on the way home. In fact, the bullying stopped when the student went home. But cyberbullying is an entirely different story. Kids can be bullied right in their own bedrooms, at any time of the day or night.
Cyberbullying feeds off the sense of anonymity and privacy that people get behind a screen. There is less fear of consequences. Online bullies can't see how the other person reacts, so they’re less concerned about the consequences of their actions. This is called the screen effect. It should come as no great surprise that two out of three kids report being cyberbullied without ever being bullied in any other way.
What Cyberbullying Looks Like
A child who is being cyberbullied will probably not spontaneously confide in their parents about it. For this reason, it's important to ask your child about cyberbullying and to look for signs that may indicate that they are being cyberbullied. For example, your child may:
- Refuse to use the computer.
- Show obvious signs of anxiety when using the computer.
- Refuse to go to school or regularly miss classes.
- Isolate themselves or have very few friends.
These signs might indicate other problems (heartache, conflict between friends, substance abuse problems, etc.) that may also need your attention.
What Should I Do if my Child is Being Cyberbullied?
If your child tells you that they are being cyberbullied, it’s important to:
- Stay calm.
- Take the time to thank them for showing their trust in you.
- Avoid overreacting by making them feel guilty for not coming to you sooner, or by cutting off access to the Internet entirely. Even if kids are being bullied online, they also need to stay connected to the online world, because it's part of their social life. Cutting off internet access could have the negative effect of reinforcing their isolation.
- Have an open attitude and reassure your child, who may be worried about too much parental interference. For example, the parent could listen to the story and ask: “how are you feeling? How do you want me to help you? What do you think you should do about the situation?”. This will help the child feel that the parent is supporting them, empowering them, listening to them, not judging them, and most importantly, not trying to interfere too much.
Assessing the Situation
Sometimes, reporting the situation is not the answer. You need to help your child learn how to deal with cyberbullying. Some cyberbullying can make kids reconsider the importance of online messages. For example, if someone is insulted in a chat room, could they ignore the person's messages, leave the environment if he or she feels uncomfortable, or even block the person?
Bullies mostly want to annoy people or make them feel uncomfortable, so if you leave the bully's environment, does the bully still have power? However, if the child's safety or the safety of those around them is threatened, it is very important to report the situation to the authorities.
Keep the Evidence
Next, ask your child to clearly explain the situation. If any e-mails or messages still exist, print them out or save them with a screen shot, for example.
This helps preserve evidence, because we know that the cyberbully can remove their content at any time.
- First, many websites have built-in features for reporting abusive situations. Parents can browse the site to learn about these tools, consult the help section or contact the website's administrators to learn more about the subject. If you are not familiar with computers, you can ask for help from a friend or someone with greater expertise.
- Contact the authorities if the situation requires it. At this point, they’ll be able to tell you if they can pursue the complaint and take legal action.
- Any cyberbullying situation can also be reported to the school. Even if the bullying occurred outside the school, the school is still obliged to provide students with a safe environment. If a student is afraid to return to school because of cyberbullying by another student, the school should intervene and help resolve the situation.
- If the bullying is through text messages, you can contact the cell phone provider to see if they can do anything about it (block the number, change the number, etc.).
Support and Follow-up
Finally, remember that cyberbullying can significantly affect a young person's self-esteem. Because of this, it is important to keep a close eye on the child after the bullying has been reported.
The parent's responsibility is to support the child in meeting challenges, such as regaining self-confidence, asserting themselves, reaching out to friends or making new ones, etc. If necessary, we can also facilitate our child following up with a professional (e.g. psychologist, social worker, psychoeducator, etc.), either within or outside the school.