Social media can be a great way to stay in touch with friends and family, but unfortunately, as it has evolved, so has a dark side that has caused plenty of children distress – some to the point of driving them to suicide.
We are talking about the growing problem of cyber-bullying. Unfortunately, many kids are victims and others are perpetrators of online bullying. In both cases, you need to nip it in the bud.
What is cyber-bullying?
Cyber-bullying includes sending, posting or sharing negative, harmful, false or mean content about someone else on social media like Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and Snapchat, as well as via text messages – and even online games.
It can include sharing personal or private information about someone else, causing them embarrassment or humiliation. Sometimes it’s one kid doing the bullying, and other times it may be a group of them ganging up on one of their peers.
Some cyber-bullying crosses the line into unlawful or criminal behavior. One of the worst parts of cyber-bullying is that the posts can go viral and spread through the student body of the child’s school. And because it is online, the posts can follow them for years.
The effects on the victims can be devastating on a developing mind:
- Long-term effects on the child’s mental and physical health
- Suicidal thoughts
- Feelings of loneliness
- Trouble eating or sleeping
- Turning to drugs or alcohol
- Poor school performance
- Withdrawing from school activities and sports.
What to do if your child is bullied
If your child tells you they are being cyber-bullied, experts recommend that you listen to them without judgement or blame.
Be mindful of their vulnerable state and gently ask questions about what has been going on and who the bullies are, if they know, as well as the way they are being bullied.
If there is evidence like text messages or social media posts, ask your child to show them and save them for documentation in case you need proof later. If the cyber-bullying included a realistic physical threat of harm, report it to your local law enforcement office.
If you know the cyber-bully and their parents and believe you can approach them to resolve the issue, you may want to consider such a course of action. But if you think it will lead to confrontation, then you should resist the urge to approach them.
If the perpetrators are at the same school as your child, contact whoever is in charge of discipline, and ask what steps are taken when cyber-bullying is reported – and how well other victims have been protected.
Discuss what you learned from the school with your child and plan your next steps. Include your child in this planning, as it can help towards regaining control.
If your child is a cyber-bully
If you find out your child is a cyber-bully, take steps to stop the activity. If you don’t, the bullying can land you in hot water and you could even be sued for their behavior.
Here are some steps you can take:
- Let your child know you are aware of the cyber-bullying and ask them to tell you what they have done. If they aren’t truthful, show them the proof if you have it.
- Help them understand the consequences of their actions and the effect it likely has on the person who is being bullied. Ask them how they’d feel if someone was doing the same things to them, or to one of their siblings or friends. Tell them some children have committed suicide because of bullying.
- Monitor their online activity. If they have a computer in their room, move it to a common area. Don’t let them use their smartphone while in their room alone.
- Demand all of their passwords and, if they refuse, take their device away (if you feel it’s necessary that they have a phone so you can contact them, buy them a “dumb” phone, like the old devices that cannot go online and use apps).
- You may also want to ask your child to apologize to the peer they have been bullying.
- If the bullying continues, you may need to take away their device or computer completely for a period of time.