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 cyberbullying. 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 cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying 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.
Some cyberbullying crosses the line into unlawful or criminal behavior. One of the worst parts of cyberbullying 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.
What to do if your child is bullied
If your child tells you they are being cyberbullied, experts recommend that you listen to them without judgment 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 cyberbullying included a realistic physical threat of harm, report it to your local law enforcement office.
If you know the cyberbully 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 cyberbullying 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 cyberbully
If you find out your child is a cyberbully, 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 cyberbullying 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.
- If the bullying continues, you may need to take away their device or computer completely for a period of time.
- You may also want to ask your child to apologize to the peer they have been bullying.