October 26, 2020
Here's how to know if your child is being bullied online, and what to do about it.
Remember when bullying was limited to the school cafeteria, the playground or the bus ride home? Today, kids can get bullied anytime — anywhere — via smartphones, laptops and other digital devices. Cyberbullying involves the use of digital technology to make others feel angry, scared or sad. Spreading rumors, sending embarrassing photos or writing hurtful texts are all examples of cyberbullying.
But there are steps parents can take to help their kids cope with — and address — this unwanted behavior:
Step 1: Identify the Problem
Kids often keep it a secret when they are bullied. They may feel ashamed, and worry that parental intervention will only make things worse. But if you sense that your child is being cyberbullied, you can take steps to help them. Start by talking to your child about what's happening and collect the facts. Cyberbullying behavior is usually intentional and repeated, and once you understand the scope of the problem, you can decide the best way to help.
Step 2: STOP
Teach your child the rules of STOP and help them to follow through, if they are being cyberbullied:
- STOP using the computer.
- TELL an adult what happened.
- Get the OK from an adult before going back online.
- PLAY with kids who don't participate in cyberbullying.
Step 3: Take Action
If the STOP technique doesn't resolve the problem, it may be time to talk face to face with the other kid's parents. Schedule a meeting for a time when everyone is feeling calm and, if possible, in a neutral location. Set positive goals — you may feel angry and upset, but the ultimate objective is to put an end to the hurtful behavior. Bring any evidence you may have, like printouts or screen shots of online conversations or photos.
Make sure the other parents feel heard — give them the chance to share their side of the story. Create a plan on how to move forward, and set up times to follow up on the situation.
Step 4: Follow Up
Even after cyberbullying ends, the wounds may persist. Continue to check in with your child, and create an environment in which they feel comfortable talking to you about their feelings. If your child is compelled to do so, they may even want to tell the bully how their actions made them feel.
What If My Kid Is the Bully?
Some situations may fall into a gray area, where it's hard to know if your child is the victim or the perpetrator, or it may become apparent that your child is the aggressor. Watch for changes in behavior such as acting secretively or fixating on devices.
If you find out your child is cyberbullying, try to remain calm. Finding out why they're acting out is key. Destructive behavior may result from them experiencing a life crisis, wanting to fit in with a group of friends or getting bullied themselves. Make sure to keep an open line of communications, and let your child know you are committed to helping them.
Prevent Cyberbullying Before It Starts
If your child is spending time online, you can explain the basics of responsible and safe cyber behavior. Let your child know what personal information should be kept private. Supervise online activity when you can, utilize parental controls and enforce preset limits on screentime. You can also encourage positive behavior by providing age-appropriate games, movies and TV shows.
Above all, set an example of kindness, compassion and acceptance of those who are different.