Bullying has changed from the days of taking someone’s lunch money or giving them a swirly in the bathroom. Now, children are much more likely to engage in cyberbullying, or the use of electronic communication to bully a person. In fact, 20-30% of today’s children will be cyberbullied, and 10-20% of students will be cyberbullies.
However, it can be tricky for a parent to figure out if their child is experiencing cyberbullying; more than half of the children who experience cyberbullying do not tell their parents about it. And while around 55% of teens report having observed bullying behavior online, 95% report ignoring the behavior when it was observed.
There are a few tell-tale signs that can give clues that your child might be engaged in cyberbullying. For example long periods and odd hours of internet use, or changes in a child’s patterns of internet use, can signify cyberbullying. A child engaging in cyberbullying behavior might also become upset if their internet usage is confronted or cut off by their parents. Children with excessive social media accounts may be using them to follow and harass others.
Another warning sign of cyberbullying is if a child’s friends are known to engage in cyberbullying or other typical bully behavior; in those cases, a child might engage in that behavior in order to fit in with the group. If a child’s schoolwork suddenly becomes inconsistent, that may be a sign that he is spending too much time online. Also, children who seem to hide aspects of their internet use by changing their screen or closing windows may be cyberbullying; similarly, a child who acts moody or irritated when they’re unable to use their computer or phone might be engaging in cyberbullying.
The research on cyberbullying shows that more than 80% of teens regularly use a cell phone, which is among the most common media for cyberbullying. Girls are statistically more likely to engage in or experience cyberbullying, and recent studies show that only 1% of bullies engage in bullying without being bullied themselves. Also, 74% of bullies were found to be boys with high levels of depression, anger, paranoia, emotional instability, potential for suicidal behavior, and a dislike for school.
As for the why behind cyberbullying, there are several reasons a child might begin cyberbullying. For some, it’s as simple as something to do besides sitting around bored, and some children may also see their actions as “just kidding” without realizing the harm they may cause. Other children feel a sense of power and status from cyberbullying or are peer-pressured into cyberbullying. If a child has been cyberbullied, they may begin cyberbullying themselves as a way of coping. Plus, the sense of anonymity on the internet encourages some children to cyberbully because they don’t think they’ll get caught.
Cyberbullying is still relatively invisible to parents and authorities. Only one in six parents report being aware of the full extent of cyberbullying, and fewer than one in five instances of cyberbullying are reported to the police. If you suspect your child of cyberbullying, there are several things you can do to address the situation.
First, research and consider how to best handle the situation. Creating a plan is crucial to preventing irrational and impulsive emotions, and your approach will differ depending on your child’s age, maturity, and their actions. Determine whether it will be most effective for you to talk to your child alone, or to involve the victim and their parents- or even the authorities.
Next, sit your child down for a talk in which you lay out the specific consequences of their actions, such as restrictions of internet use and/or free time and apologizing to the victim. Try to identify their motivation during this time as well. Let them know that they must stop their actions, and explain the potential severity of their actions.
However, don’t try to deny the situation or shift the blame onto someone else. While cyberbullying may be caused partly by the actions of friends, your child needs to understand that their actions are equally as severe as the actions of those who may have influenced them.
The actions of cyberbullies can have emotionally traumatizing effects on their victims, such as depression, stress, loss of appetite, use of alcohol and drugs, and more. It’s up to parents to monitor their children for signs of cyberbullying and address the situation calmly and effectively.
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