Articles

Catching and Curbing Cyberbullying

Feb 05, 2019

As social media and the prevalence of devices have exploded in recent years, so too has the issue of cyberbullying. In fact, according to a global study covering a three-year period, 60 percent of parents with children ages 14-18 surveyed reported their child had been bullied, while 56 percent of parents with kids 11-13 and nearly half of kids ages 6-10 reported the same.  

What is Cyberbullying?

Cyberbullying is the use of technology to inflict willful and repeated harm. It can occur through text messages, social media accounts and gaming. According to the the Cyberbullying Research Center, cyberbullying occurs more frequently where teens gather. In the 2000s, that space was chat rooms (like the now defunct AOL Instant Messaging service). But as of late, online harassment is most often found in social media channels, like Instagram and Snapchat, gaming platforms and video streaming websites, like Twitch and YouTube.

This matters is because of the potentially devastating – even deadly – effects that cyberbullying can have. Victims can experience low self-esteem, falling grades, depression and even suicidal iterations as a result of cyberbullying; in one study nearly a quarter of victims reported having suicidal thoughts while 23 percent self-harmed in some way due to the harassment. 

Statistics to Know About Cyberbullies

Parents are justifiably concerned about the impact of cyberbullying on their children as victims, but what if it’s your child who’s doing the bullying? The numbers here are equally sobering, with some studies suggesting between 10 and 20 percent of kids will bully a peer online in their lifetime, while another reports 12 percent of kids 10-17 had perpetrated bullying online in the past year and 6 percent of American high schoolers cyberbullied someone in the last 30 days alone. 

All of these numbers point to one uncomfortable conclusion for parents, that their child is actually causing the harm another person is experiencing online. But unlike garden-variety, in-person bullying where there are usually some witnesses to the behavior, the allure of cyberbullying is the anonymity it provides the abuser, making it difficult for parents to know if their youngster or teen is engaging in this kind of behavior. 

Common Cyberbullying Behaviors

Here are some examples to look out for when it comes to online bullying:

  • Posting a mean or hurtful video: Children and teenagers can share private information about others that could be embarrassing or harmful.

  • Lies and false accusations: Children can spread false information or rumors about someone using digital technologies. This can lead to more harassment from more than the person initiating the bullying.

  • Bullying for being different: Children posting to social accounts, making fun of others who may be economically challenged (e.g., not wearing name brand clothing) or for being different (e.g., special needs or identifying as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer).

  • False identities: Teens can create new social media profiles of a person, and use it to learn personal information about classmates, only to share it with others.

  • Encouraging self-harm or suicide: This form was placed in the spotlight with the Michelle Carter court case. In 2017, Carter was convicted of involuntary manslaughter when, as a teen, she encouraged her then boyfriend to kill himself. While that case seems extreme, there are other instances when children have sent “better-off-dead” messages as a form of online harassment.

  • Doxxing: A newer form of cyberbullying, doxxing is the distribution of personal information — names, addresses, phone numbers, etc. — online without permission. While not revolving around children, a real-life example of this was the publishing of Ashley Madison customers’ names, banking information and more. Children can also be the target of doxxing, as in one case, a boy wrote in an online forum that he didn’t like game features and tactics. As a matter of disagreement, another user doxxed him, sending a flood of threatening emails and messages his way.

How to Identify Cyberbullying

As parents, it’s hard to keep tabs on your child’s online activity, and it’s pretty much impossible these days to ban them from using your Kinetic Internet. So, what should you look for to learn whether your children are either victims of online harassment, or are cyberbullying others?

Here are some telling signs that they might be victims: 

  • Noticeable differences in device usage, whether increased or decreased
  • Strange behavior or strong emotional responses when using their devices
  • Unusual secrecy, especially when it comes to online activity
  • Deleted or new social media accounts
  • Avoidance of school and social activities, particularly ones that they’ve enjoyed in the past
  • Withdrawal from friends and family members
  • Depression generally, which can exhibit itself through changes in appetite, sleep and overall behavior

If you’re worried that your child may be the aggressor, look for these signs:

  • Unusual secrecy especially when it comes to online activity, like switching screens or hiding devices when you’re near
  • Excessive laughter while using their device, paired with an unwillingness to tell you what they’re laughing at
  • Usage of several online accounts, particularly those that aren’t their own
  • Increases in behavioral issues or disciplinary actions at school
  • Concerns with social status or popularity at school
  • Insensitivity or callousness toward others

Instances of cyberbullying can fall through the cracks, as parents may not have the time to know what their children are doing every second they’re online. Educators run into a conundrum because these instances typically occur outside of school confines, and law enforcement generally don’t get involved unless there’s clear evidence of a crime. (Certain forms of cyberbullying — threats of violence, child pornography, voyeurism, stalking and hate crimes — are illegal.)

How to Help End Cyberbullying

If you determine your child is bullying others, there are several steps you can – and should – take to correct the behavior and help break the cycle of abuse. Experts suggest: 

1. ACKNOWLEDGE THE ISSUE. Avoid the “not my kid” syndrome and realize no one is above this behavior, not even your own child.  

2. REMAIN CALM. Nothing is accomplished by losing your cool. Try to separate the child from their behavior and address the latter. 

3. STOP THE BULLYING. Obvious, but essential. Be calm but be firm – this behavior stops. Now. 

4. INVESTIGATE. As unpleasant as it may be, find out the extent of your child’s bullying behavior. Get all the facts you can, ugly and embarrassing though they may be. 

5. MAKE CHILDREN UNDERSTAND HOW TARGETS FEEL. Discuss the potential consequences of their behavior on victims. Use the opportunity to cultivate empathy and compassion. 

6. SET UP PARENTAL CONTROLS. As a general practice, you should be monitoring your child’s online activities, both formally and informally. In the wake of bullying, restricting internet time and online access or confiscating devices can be an effective consequence for their actions. 

7. ESTABLISH RULES ABOUT DEVICE USAGE. Set rules before your children even sign up for social media accounts. If you’re not a fan of certain apps or social media platforms, relay that to your children. Have guidelines for online activity — whether it’s how long or when they can use their devices — and keep those lines of communication open. Be sure to enforce those rules especially if your children start bending or breaking the rules.

8. LEARN THE LATEST APPS, SOCIAL MEDIA PLATFORMS AND SLANG. Know the newest apps and social media platforms and what they do. Also, learn the latest slang, or any other shorthand children — especially teens — may use while messaging. If you want to take it a step further, try some safety apps that can help strengthen parental controls. Some will monitor history and app usage, while others will track keylogging on your child’s phone.

You don’t have to be completely in the dark about your child’s online time. Try out these eight tips on being more involved in your kids’ Internet lives, and learn about how you can set the right parental controls with your Kinetic Internet today.

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