In a world where teens are able to stay in contact 24/7, cyberbullying can be a real danger. Because teens can contact each other so easily and in so many ways, it can be nearly impossible for those being bullied to escape. While teens 20 years ago might have been able to get a break from bullies at home or with friends after school, today’s teens face bullying at all hours. Cyberbullying also leaves a trail that can follow both teens who bully and teens who get bullied for years to come. Virtually anything that passes through the internet should be considered public and permanent. College admissions offices, future employers, and even future dates can search through anyone’s digital past. If there are things they don’t like, it could cost a teen many opportunities in the future. Unfortunately, cyberbullying can be hard for adults to recognize because it’s happening online, not out loud or in person.
StopBullying.gov, a government website aimed reducing the negative impacts of bullying, has some helpful tips for parents and caregivers:
Some of the warning signs that a child may be involved in cyberbullying are:
- Noticeable increases or decreases in phone use, including texting.
- A child exhibits emotional responses (laughter, anger, upset) to what is happening on their phone.
- A child hides their screen or device when others are near, and avoids discussion about what they are doing on their phone.
- Social media accounts are shut down or new ones appear.
- A child starts to avoid social situations, even those that were enjoyed in the past.
- A child becomes withdrawn or depressed, or loses interest in people and activities.
If you notice warning signs that a child may be involved in cyberbullying, take steps to investigate that child’s digital behavior. If you think that a child is involved in cyberbullying, there are several things you can do:
- Notice – Recognize if there has been a change in mood or behavior and explore what the cause might be.
- Talk – Ask questions to learn what is happening, how it started, and who is involved.
- Document – Keep a record of what is happening and where. Take screenshots of harmful posts or content if possible. Most laws and policies note that bullying is a repeated behavior, so records help to document it.
- Report – Most social media platforms and schools have clear policies and reporting processes. If a classmate is cyberbullying, report it to the school. You can also contact app or social media platforms to report offensive content and have it removed. If a child has received physical threats, or if a potential crime or illegal behavior is occurring, report it to the police.
- Support – Peers, mentors, and trusted adults can sometimes intervene publicly to positively influence a situation where negative or harmful content is posted about a child. Public Intervention can include posting positive comments about the person targeted with bullying to try to shift the conversation in a positive direction. It can also help to reach out privately to the child who is bullying and the target of the bullying to express your concern. If possible, try to determine if more professional support is needed for those involved, such as speaking with a guidance counselor or mental health professional.