One of the most pervasive issues concerning young people and internet usage today is cyberbullying, a form of harassment and abuse that can have tragic consequences.
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.
Why 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.
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.
Here are some expert tips on identifying possible bullying behavior
- Changes screens or closes programs quickly when you approach.
- Uses the computer frequently and/or at all hours of the night.
- Gets annoyed if doesn’t have access to the computer or mobile phone.
- Avoids talking about what he or she does on the computer or on the mobile phone.
- Uses multiple online accounts or accounts that are not theirs.
One very telling red flag is if your child has been the victim of cyberbullying themselves in the past. Studies suggest kids who are bullied may be more likely to bully others as a way to regain power and lash out after feeling victimized.
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.