Bullies and mean girls have been around forever, but technology
has given them a whole new platform for their actions. As adults,
we're becoming more aware that the "sticks and
stones" adage no longer holds true; virtual name-calling can
have real-world effects on the well being of kids and teens.
It's not always easy to know how and when to step in as a
parent. For starters, our kids tend to use technology differently
than we do. Many spend a lot of time on social networking sites,
send text messages and instant messages (IMs) by the hundreds, and
are likely to roll their eyes at the mention of email - that's
"so old-school" to them. Their knowledge and habits can
be intimidating, but they still need us as parents.
Fortunately, our growing awareness of
has helped us learn a lot more about how to prevent it. Here are
some suggestions on what to do if online bullying has become part
of your child's life.
What Is Cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying is the use of technology to harass, threaten,
embarrass, or target another person. By definition, it occurs among
young people. When an adult is involved, it may meet the definition
, a crime that can have legal consequences and involve jail
Sometimes cyberbullying can be clear-cut. For example, leaving
overtly cruel cell phone text messages or mean notes posted to Web
sites. Other acts are less obvious, such as impersonating a victim
online or posting personal information or videos designed to hurt
or embarrass another child.
Cyberbullying also can happen accidentally. The impersonal
nature of text messages, IMs, and emails make it very hard to
detect the sender's tone - one teen's joke or sense of
humor could be another's devastating insult. Nevertheless, a
repeated pattern of emails, text messages, and online posts is
A 2006 poll from the national organization Fight Crime: Invest
in Kids found that 1 in 3 teens and 1 in 6 preteens have been the
victims of cyberbullying. As more and more youths have access to
computers and cell phones, the incidence of cyberbullying is likely
Effects of Cyberbullying
No longer limited to schoolyards or street corners, modern-day
bullying can happen at home as well as at school - essentially 24
hours a day. And, for kids who are being cyberbullied, it can feel
like there's no escape.
Severe cyberbullying can leave victims at greater risk for
anxiety, depression, and other stress-related disorders. In very
rare cases, some kids have turned to suicide.
The punishment for cyberbullies can include being suspended from
school or kicked off of sports teams. Certain types of
cyberbullying also may violate school codes or even
anti-discrimination or sexual harassment laws.
Signs of Cyberbullying
Many kids and teens who are cyberbullied are reluctant to tell a
teacher or parent, often because they feel ashamed of the social
stigma, or because they fear their computer privileges will be
taken away at home.
The signs that a child is being cyberbullied vary, but a few
things to look for are:
- signs of emotional distress during or after using the
- withdrawal from friends and activities
- avoidance of school or group gatherings
- slipping grades and "acting out" in anger at
- changes in mood, behavior, sleep, or appetite
How Parents Can Help
If you discover that your child is being cyberbullied, be sure
to discuss how it feels. Offer assurance that it's not your
child's fault. Talking to teachers or school administrators
also may help.
Many schools, school districts, and after-school clubs have
established protocols for responding to cyberbullying; these vary
by district and state. But before reporting the problem, let your
child know that you plan to do so, as he or she could have concerns
about "tattling" and might prefer that the problem be
handled at home.
Other measures to try:
Block the bully.
Most devices have settings that allow you to electronically block
emails, IMs, or text messages from specific people.
Limit access to technology
Although it's hurtful, many kids who are bullied can't
resist the temptation to check Web sites or phones to see if
there are new messages. Keep the computer in a public place in
the house (no laptops in children's bedrooms, for example)
and limit the use of cell phones and games. Some companies allow
you to turn off text messaging services during certain hours,
which can give bullied kids a break.
Know your kids' online world.
Check their postings and the sites kids visit, and be aware of
how they spend their time online. Talk to them about the
importance of privacy and why it's a bad idea to share
personal information online, even with friends. Encourage them to
If your child agrees, you may also arrange for mediation with a
therapist or counselor at school who can work with your child
and/or the bully.
When Your Child Is the Bully
Finding out that your child is the one who is behaving
inappropriately can be upsetting and heartbreaking. It's
important to address the problem head on and not wait for it to go
Talk to your child firmly about his or her actions and explain
the negative impact it has on others. Joking and teasing might seem
OK, but it can hurt people's feelings and lead to getting in
in any form
is unacceptable; there can be serious (and sometimes irrevocable)
consequences at home, school, and in the community if it
Remind your child that the use of cell phones and computers is a
privilege. Sometimes it helps to restrict the use of these devices
until behavior improves. If you feel your child should have a cell
phone for safety reasons, make sure it is a phone that can only be
used for emergency purposes.
To get to the heart of the matter, sometimes talking to
teachers, guidance counselors, and other school officials can help
identify situations that lead your child to bully others. If
mismanaged anger is a problem, talk to a doctor about helping your
child learn to cope with anger, hurt, frustration, and other strong
emotions in a healthy way.
Professional counseling often helps kids learn to deal with
their feelings and improve their social skills, which in turn can
Michelle New, PhD
Date reviewed: January 2009
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice,
diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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