If your child is currently old enough to have a social media account, bullying has changed a lot since you were a kid. We may have been online as teenagers, but the internet was still a new place where the most socialization happened on AOL instant messenger or Myspace.
Basically, we had one social outlet online – if we were lucky. Today, the internet is so far-reaching that cyberbullying can reach a child anywhere.
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What is Cyberbullying?
We know cyberbullying happens online, but what does it look like? Maybe someone posts a picture of someone else on Instagram and asks if that person is ugly. Maybe another person details embarrassing events on Twitter in an effort to shame someone else. Cyberbullying can take many forms, but it always involves someone intentionally making someone else feel bad. There are many similarities between cyberbullying and in-person bullying, and there are some differences too.
Cyberbullying Happens 24-7
Unfortunately, there’s little escape from cyberbullying. Unlike bullying at school, cyberbullies reach their targets wherever they are. The only way to escape cyberbullying would be to unplug from the internet, but even that’s not 100 percent effective. If someone is publicly shaming another person online, there’s a good chance the victim will find out about it one way or another – even if they stay disconnected from the internet.
It’s Not always Someone You Know
When we think of bullying, we typically think it’s kids from school. This is often the case but not always. Anyone can be a cyberbully, even someone you’ve never met in person. As parents, we worry a lot about the mysterious strangers of the internet, and for a good reason. But we should know that although this is a possibility, the American Sociological Association tells us that most cyberbullying happens between kids who were once friends or who have dated.
Cyberbullying is Common
If your child has been a victim of cyberbullying, it may help to know that he or she is not alone. About 20 to 25 percent of adolescents have been bullied through the internet, according to a survey from the National Education Association. The cyberbullying that we hear about on the news and social media is typically extreme, but this isn’t always the case. Sometimes, it can happen for a day or week before the bullies move on to something else. Sometimes, it’s a more lasting and damaging experience.
Bullying Has Consequences for Everyone
There’s no escaping the fact that bullying is a serious matter. It can have a negative impact on your child’s emotional well-being that can follow him or her into adulthood. Problems, such as substance abuse and depression, often stem from childhood bullying.
A 2001 Aggressive Behavior study found that both bullies and victims were more likely to have psychiatric disorders like depression or attention-deficit disorder. And a 2009 Addictive Behaviors study found that bullies and victims were also more likely to fall victim to a substance abuse disorder later in life.
There’s Something You Can Do
Nothing can leave a parent feeling quite as hopeless as when their child is being bullied. One of the most important things you can do is to talk to your kids about cyberbullying. Before you give your child access to the internet, you probably had a talk about stranger danger. This is a good time to discuss cyberbullying and its effects. Tell your kids how common it is and that it’s not a reflection of who they are. Your kids should also know that they can come to you if they feel personally targeted online. Together, you can come up with an action plan to address the root of the cyberbullying.
If you find out your child is being bullied online, you’ll want to do more than just talk about it. If you feel comfortable, you can talk to the bully’s parents. If possible, take a screenshot of their child’s online behavior, so you can show them what’s happening. You can also report the bullying on whatever platform it is happening. The bully will likely get suspended from that medium, and the consequences may help curb the bully’s behavior. Finally, if anyone threatens to harm your child, report it to law enforcement right away. There’s no way to know whether someone will follow through on threats and it’s better to be safe than sorry.