Before the dawn of the Internet, it was a lot easier to spot bullying. You were more likely to be within earshot of any teasing or taunting. You could easily look for any physical bullying, whether it was tripping, pushing, taking someone else’s belongings or hitting. And maybe, you were even attuned to your child’s social groups, staying aware of signs like leaving out someone on purpose or spreading rumors about others.
But with the Internet came a new form of bullying: cyberbullying.
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.
So, what exactly does it look like? Here are some examples from stopbullying.gov:
- 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.
By the Numbers
By far, what we would deem traditional bullying is still more prevalent than cyberbullying. At least one-fourth of the nation’s students reported being bullied at school, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The percentage drops when it comes to cyberbullying (9 percent), though children who identified as LGBTQ say they have been cyberbullied at a higher rate (55 percent).
The Cyberbullying Research Center found that the numbers of children who experience cyberbullying greatly vary with age and that 28 percent of the kids who participated in the organization’s last 10 studies over the last decade say they have experienced it. A smaller percentage (16 percent) said that they have cyberbullied others.
The group’s most recent study — which included about 5,700 middle and high school children across the nation — found that about one-third of the students reported being cyberbullied, while about 17 percent reported online harassment within the last month. Of the same sample, nearly 12 percent of students admitted to being an online bully, while 6 percent reported being so within the last month.
Is it a growing problem? Experts have been forecasting an increase, mostly because teens are almost always online. The Pew Research Center found that about 95 percent of teens own a smartphone or have access to one, and that has brought them online more frequently. Forty-five percent of teens say that they’re online “on a near-constant basis,” according to Pew.
And the lion’s share of that time is spent on social media accounts, particularly Snapchat, YouTube and Instagram, the same study found.
Cyberbullying has even caught the attention of First Lady Melania Trump, who announced it recently as a part of her formal platform “Be Best.” The initiative has three main pillars — well-being, social media use and opioid use — and seeks to help children “overcome some of the issues they face growing up in a modern world.”
Look for the Signs
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.)
If cyberbullying doesn’t get addressed, the aggressor may start to believe that there aren’t any consequences for those actions, further perpetuating the harmful behavior. Inappropriate online material — if not taken down — can also hurt your child’s college prospects or even employment in the future.
So, what’s a parent to do?
Your Guide to Curbing Cyberbullying
Let’s first go through some steps if you learn your child is the victim of online harassment.
First, you’ll want to talk to your child and ensure that they feel and are safe. Give them unconditional support, but also take time to learn what exactly is happening, when it started and who is involved. Next, you’ll want to document the instances of cyberbullying. Take screenshots of any social posts, or record any audio. (Here’s how to take screenshots on a PC and on a Mac.)
Then, you should report it. Note that it’s best to talk with your child about what they think the best path forward might be. They may be hesitant to take certain measures for fear of retaliation or escalation of the cyberbullying. If the bully is a classmate, report that behavior to the school; if it’s someone online, report it to the social media network or app. Schools and social media apps already have clear steps or policies in reporting abuse. (As an example, here’s how to report online harassment to Snapchat.) Children should also block any online aggressors.
Schools can call in the bully’s parents and also offer help in working to change his or her behavior. Read this Chicago Tribune article about how to approach the situation at school and with the bully’s parents.
And, if it ever crosses the line and breaks the law, report it to police.
If, on the other hand, your child is the aggressor, talk to him or her about what happened and why they acted in that manner. It’s best to remain calm, but firm, to get to the root of the inappropriate online behavior. Ensure that your child understands how his or her actions affect others and that there are consequences to those actions. Don’t be afraid to approach others — whether they’re school officials or not — for extra help as well.
And, if your child witnesses bullying of any kind, make sure they know what they can do, so as not to be a bystander.
There are a few measures you can put into place to help protect your children online. Here are a few tips from our Kinetic by Windstream team:
1. Establish clear lines of communication
Clear lines of communication with your child can mean the difference between whether you know he or she is the target of online harassment, and, of course, it can mean the difference between escalating the situation or stamping it out. Remember, too, that communication is a two-way street: you’ll not only dispense advice but also really listen.
2. Educate your children about appropriate online behavior and online privacy
This is probably one of the most important tips for parents. Ensure your child understands online privacy: what can be viewed or shared and by whom, along with any restrictions they can place on who can see their posts. Let them know that what they share can affect their reputation now and in the future. It might not hurt to go through the online privacy options with them when they’re setting up the accounts, too.
As a part of the appropriate online behavior lesson, teach your children what cyberbullying is and the effects that online harassment can have on others. Show them instances of appropriate online behavior, and set yourself as an example of good digital behavior.
3. 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.
4. Monitor your children’s Kinetic Internet usage
You can start by checking browsing histories and reviewing your child’s social media activities. Be the kind of parents who friend your children on social media accounts, and, in case they’ve turned on privacy settings to limit their content to you, have another trusted family member or family friend also follow your children online.
5. 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 five 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.