Cyberbullying has become a growing concern for parents as children spend more and more time online. Cyberbullying harms a child’s physical and mental health, and makes school more difficult. It can start when children begin using electronic devices to communicate with others.
With more learning and play time taking place online, it's more important than ever to ensure that children's digital experiences are safe.
What is Cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying includes a wide range of actions in the digital world, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), such as:
- Sending mean messages to someone
- Sharing embarrassing pictures of someone without permission and with ill intent
- Making up and spreading lies about someone
- Telling others to ignore or exclude someone
Although cyberbullying is similar to traditional bullying, there are a few differences:
- It can happen anywhere, anytime. It’s not limited to school, during school hours
- It can happen without knowing who is sending the messages
- It can spread quickly and “go viral,” making the cyberbullying even more hurtful
How to Spot Cyberbullying in Your Child
Your child may not always tell you if they engage in cyberbullying, or is a victim. Here are some warning signs to look for if your child is:
Your child may be cyberbullying others if they:
- Have friends who bully others
- Are increasingly aggressive
- Blame others for their problems
- Don’t accept responsibility for their actions
- Are competitive and worry about their reputation or popularity
Look for changes in your child. However, it’s important to know not all children who are victims of cyberbullying show clear signs. Your child may be cyberbullied if they have:
- Frequent headaches or stomach aches, feeling sick or faking illness
- Changes in eating habits, like suddenly skipping meals or binge eating
- Difficulty sleeping or frequent nightmares
- Declining grades, loss of interest in schoolwork, or not wanting to go to school
- Sudden loss of friends or avoidance of social situations
- Feelings of helplessness or decreased self-esteem
- Self-destructive behaviors such as running away from home, harming themselves, or talking about suicide
What Can You Do as a Parent?
As preventive measures, you can help set kind and respectful online environments by:
Having a Plan
It’s key to set clear rules from the beginning. You can create your own media plan, based on this sample from the AAP.
Setting a Good Example
Children often copy what they see adults do. When you are respectful to others online, your child is more likely to follow your lead.
What children see early in life can set the tone for the future. Ask your children what kind of comments they see or send online. Explain to them that mean words and actions hurt people’s feelings, whether online or in person.
Is Your Child Cyberbullying Others?
Take it very seriously. Now is the time to change this behavior. You can follow these bullying guidelines from the AAP:
Set Firm and Consistent Limits
Be sure your child knows cyberbullying is never OK.
Be a Good Role Model
Show children they can communicate their needs and feelings in a respectful way.
Use Effective, Nonphysical Discipline, Such as Loss of Privileges
When your child needs discipline, explain why the behavior was wrong and how your child can change it.
Explain How Cyberbullying Hurts Others
Give real examples of the positive and negative results of your child’s actions.
Work With Others to Find Practical Solutions
Together with the school principal, teachers, and counselors, find positive ways to stop this behavior.
Is Your Child Being Cyberbullied?
Parents may not know what to do if their child is bullied in person or online. The AAP recommends these guidelines:
Don’t Take Devices Away
Children may see this as punishment, and they will be less willing to tell you about cyberbullying in the future.
If there is online evidence, save a screenshot. It may be helpful if it becomes necessary to report the event.
Support Your Child
Talk with your child about their experience. By listening to and showing support for your child, he or she is better able to handle the situation in a healthy way.
Report Bad Behavior
Most social media platforms have ways to report bad behavior. If a classmate is bullying, you can report it to the school. If the bullying involves threats of physical harm, you can consider reporting to the police.
Get Support for Yourself
A child’s bullying experience can also be stressful for a parent. Parents should consider finding someone to talk to for support.
In addition to speaking with your child’s pediatrician, consider using online resources from trusted sources, including: