“They would post that I was ugly, worthless and other really horrible names. It got to the point where they were telling me I should die or to go kill myself. I tried to stop looking at it, but I couldn’t help checking my phone all day long. It never stopped.”
Bullying has been an issue that children and adolescents have struggled with for a long time, however today’s ever-present technology and social media accessibility has allowed a new form of bullying to emerge-cyberbullying, the use of technology to harass, threaten, embarrass or target another person.
For some parents, cyberbullying is readily apparent because your child may show you a text, tweet or comment on SnapChat, Instagram, etc. that is clearly mean or cruel. Other times, it may not be as obvious. Cyberbullying can include people who post photos, stories or comments with the intention of embarrassing someone, or those who create false accounts on social media sites in order to harass, threaten or embarrass others.
Cyberbullying is very common
It is difficult to know exactly how many teens are affected by cyberbullying. Recent studies have determined that about 1 in 4 teens have been the victims of cyberbullying, and about 1 in 6 admit to having cyberbullied someone. In some studies, more than half of the teens surveyed said that they’ve experienced abuse through social and digital media. (kidshealth.org)
With cyberbullying, there is no opportunity to escape the harrassment. It can occur 24 hours a day, so there is no break from bullying once the school day is over. Adolescents spend a lot of time checking their social media accounts and sending tweets, messages and pictures. This provides a bully access to the teen at anytime.
Many teens do not want to tell others when they are a victim of cyberbullying. This could be because they are ashamed that they are being bullied or embarrassed by what the bully is saying. Teens may also worry that parents will take away their phone or device, which for most teens is their life.
Signs Your Child Is Being Cyberbullied
Things to look for when you suspect your teen is being cyberbullied:
- A change in mood after computer or phone use (sad, angry, withdrawn, tearful)
- Increase in isolation (avoiding family or friends)
- Obsessive behavior relating to their device (having a password, keeping device next to them at all times)
- Highly secretive when using computer or phone (hiding what they are doing, turning off device when parent walks in the room)
- Change in grades
- Avoid social situations (school, extracurricular activities)
- Defensive when computer or phone use is discussed
What To Do If Your Child Is Being Cyberbullied
1. First, offer support. Let them know that it is not their fault that they are being bullied.
2. Talk to school teachers, principals, or counselors to let them know about the bullying, especially if it involves another student.
3. Encourage your teen to delete or block the person that is bullying them from their social media sites and text messaging.
4. Remind them to not respond to any of the comments or pictures that the bully posts.
5. Keep a copy or screenshot for evidence if needed later on.
6. Install parental control software that will give you remote access to all text messages as well as online activity.
Most importantly, parents need to be aware of what their teen is doing online.
- Become familiar with the digital platforms listed below where cyberbullying often occurs.
- Become “friends” with your teen online in order to monitor all usage.
- Know who they are friends with both in real life and online.
- Limit their internet use to avoid them going online all hours of the night or have the computer in a central location in the home where it is easier to monitor activity, even if this does cause them to become angry.
- Cyberbullying can occur on any digital platform…on a computer, tablet or phone and through social media platforms as well as through email, texting, messaging apps and more.
Sarah Jongsma, LMSW, is a case manager at Pine Rest’s Child and Adolescent Partial Hospitalization Program.