Thanks to social media, the children of today have access to the world in a way that no other generation has before.
The online world has its advantages — for example, it enables young people to connect with others all around the world who share their interests, problems, and aspirations. This can help them cultivate a sense of belonging that not all of them may find in the offline world.
However, as we all know, social media platforms have a dark side, and one of the issues is that they expose children to the risk of online abuse and cyberbullying.
According to Pew Research Center, a majority of teenagers have experienced some form of cyberbullying. While the figures are similar among boys and girls (59% vs. 60%, respectively), girls are more likely to be the victims of name-calling, physical threats, and rumor-spreading. Girls are also more likely to receive explicit images they did not ask for.
All this paints a worrying picture for parents who want to protect their children online. However, it’s not always easy figuring out the best way to respond to online harassment since parents are often not as familiar with the dynamics of social media as their children are.
Additionally, cyberbullying is a unique type of harassment that requires an understanding of how it works and the role social media plays in it.
If you’re a parent who’s concerned about your child’s exposure to cyberbullying, read on. This article will cover the different types of cyberbullying, some signs your child may be the victim of online harassment, and steps you can take to protect them.
Online harassment is the use of internet-based devices — such as a smartphone, computer, or tablet — to direct offensive, abusive, insulting, or threatening messages, images, or videos at an individual and/or group, in ways that are likely to cause them alarm or distress.
Just because the harassment occurs online doesn’t mean it affects the victim any less than offline bullying. In fact, in some ways, online harassment is uniquely pervasive since it can follow an individual wherever they go, as long as they have a device that they use to go online.
Additionally, cyberbullies often hide their identity with fake profiles and social media accounts, which can make it scarier since the victim doesn’t know who is targeting them.
Here are a few of the forms online harassment can take:
Depending on your child, they may or may not approach you to confide about cyberbullying or online harassment. Therefore, you should be vigilant to their behavioral cues that may indicate their experience.
Here are some red flags to look out for:
It’s important not to automatically conclude that these behaviors indicate online harassment, but if you notice any of them, you should investigate what might be causing them. It could be cyberbullying or another issue.
As a parent, discovering that your child is being harassed or bullied online can be a huge shock. Feelings of confusion, anger on behalf of your child, and sadness are all completely understandable.
However, it’s essential to process your feelings alone so you can be the support your child direly needs at the moment and give them comfort and practical help in dealing with this unsettling situation.
Here are some steps you can take if your child is being bullied online or you suspect that they are.
Talk openly and honestly with your child about the things that can happen online, referencing the list of cyberbullying activities above.
Highlight that children and teens can be cruel to one another and outline steps they can take to protect themselves online and minimize the risk.
Don’t just talk at your child, though — make sure it’s a two-way conversation and be prepared to listen to their experiences.
Understanding how apps like Instagram, Twitch, and TikTok work will open your eyes to the possible ways people can commit cyber harassment against your child and enable you to have more informed conversations with them
Establish reasonable rules about what your child can and can’t do on the Internet and set time limits on their computer and phone use.
If you want very young children to use services such as YouTube, activate features such as the Kids Mode that restricts the type of content they consume.
Being the victim of cyberbullying can be very upsetting for your child. They may also feel ashamed or like they somehow brought it on themselves.
Let your child know that you’re on their side and will stick by them no matter what they’re going through or what they face — they deserve every bit of support and care that you can provide.
Explain to your child that it’s not their fault and that bullying says a lot more about the bully than the victim.
Let your child know they did the right thing by talking to you about it, and reassure them that you’ll take steps to put an end to it.
Tell the principal, school nurse, counselor, or a teacher about the situation. Many schools, school districts, and after-school clubs have mechanism for responding to cyberbullying. These vary by district and state.
Before reporting the problem, let your child know so that you can work out together how to approach the situation in a way you both feel comfortable with.
Social media sites can be a powerful, useful tool when used properly — but it can have negative consequences, such as online harassment, that need to be tackled with adequate sensitivity and support.
If you’re a parent looking for tools to support your child through bullying of any kind — whether on or offline — head over to the Lessonbee Safety Content Library. We have lessons and resources for parents and educators on cyberbullying, conflict resolution, violence prevention, and more.