Is your child cyberbullying?
Signs your child may be involved in cyberbullying
The first thing to keep in mind is that cyberbullying isn't limited to just 'bad kids' and it's become more common than most of us would like to think. If your child is involved in it, it doesn't mean you're a terrible parent. It may be that they've become caught up in behaviour encouraged by peers all around them.
Or they may be someone who starts it and keeps it up persistently, and needs serious attention and support themselves. Either way, understanding the signs is the first step to stopping it.
Here are some of the signs your child may be involved:
- Your child has a large number of social networking accounts on multiple sites, which may be a sign they're using accounts to harass others.
- You overhear insults, snarky remarks or sarcastic laughter while your child is online or texting.
- Your child becomes secretive about their online activity: they quickly change the screen or hide their mobile device if you interrupt them and may become annoyed when you walk in on them.
- They spend long hours online, almost obsessively, perhaps finding times to be online when the rest of the family is asleep.
- Your child is spending time with friends who behave in ways that are mean or uncaring. Often, children engage in cyberbullying to fit in with a new peer group.
- They don't seem to care if their words or actions hurt others.
Other characteristics of those who bully:
- They may become frustrated, and act out their frustration with aggression.
- They may resist following rules.
- They may be judgmental and critical of others.
- They may be experiencing difficulties at home or have less parental involvement.
Why do children and teens cyberbully?
It can be hard to make sense of why kids would engage in such mean and hostile behaviour. Even harder to think that it may be our own child. But understanding some of the reasons can help us intervene in a positive way.
Some reasons why kids cyberbully others:
- Cyberbullying is often a way to relieve boredom. Kids experience it as a way to inject excitement and drama into their lives, and it becomes a form of entertainment.
- Cyberbullying can give a sense of power and status to those doing it. Having an audience, especially those who laugh at the bullying, gives that person a feeling of control and importance.
- Many who get involved in cyberbullying give in to peer pressure. They want to fit in or not be seen as the odd one out or uncool. Groups spur each other on.
- Some really don't see that they're doing anything wrong. They see it as just a harmless joke, especially when they have the sense that everyone does it.
- Some who bully others believe the victim deserves it. They might see the victim as someone who thinks too much of themselves, or someone who ‘stole' a boyfriend or girlfriend
- If a teen has been a victim of cyberbullying, they may begin bullying themselves to act out their sense of helplessness and to get back at others.
- Online, there's a sense of invincibility. Kids believe they won't get caught and many bullies use anonymous identities to avoid detection. It's one of the reasons why cyberbullying can continue so long and be so relentless. It also means the child never sees the pain of the victim, which makes it harder to have empathy and far easier to continue.
Why do teens create, send or share sexual images or videos of themselves or others?
Sending nude or sexually explicit photos – or sexting as it's commonly called – has become widespread among many teens. For parents, it's as bewildering as it is disturbing. Why would they do this?
Peer pressure is a huge factor. Friends will dare each other, or romantic partners might urge or insist. And once a teen shares a sexually explicit photo, it immediately opens up the risk of it being shared more widely, or being used against them in the future.
For more information, see the Resource Guide for Families: Addressing Self/Peer Exploitation from the Canadian Centre for Child Protection.
Steps to follow if your child is involved in cyberbullying
As hard as it is to learn your child is a victim, it can be just as disturbing to learn your child is cyberbullying others. You'll likely feel a mix of feelings: disappointment, anger, embarrassment, betrayal, and more. You'll need to judge the severity of their behaviour, but below are general steps you can take:
Step #1: Talk with your child about cyberbullying
- Even though you may be angry and hurt, you'll get further if you stay calm and focus on your child's actions.
- Let your child know you are aware of the cyberbullying. Ask them to tell you exactly what they've done, and to what extent. If they can't acknowledge what they've done, share proof of the cyberbullying if you have it.
- Explain that what they're doing is unacceptable. Teens sometimes believe they are 'just joking around'. But it's important to let them know that what's funny to one person might be devastating to another. And they need to stop.
- Try and elicit empathy in them. Help them understand the consequences of their actions. Ask them how they'd feel if someone was doing the same things to them or to someone they love, like a sibling or cousin.
- Talk with them about known cases where things have led to very tragic results. Ask them how they would feel if their behaviour led to that.
- Try to get an understanding of why they may be doing this. Are they trying to fit into a peer group? Are they trying to be more popular and be liked by others? Are they angry about something at home, for example, a divorce, or a move? Or have they been bullied themselves and are trying to get revenge?
- Talk to them about the seriousness of their actions. Let them know their actions may be criminal, and ask them how they'd feel if their actions were reported to the police or to school authorities.
Step #2: Take action in the home to stop cyberbullying behaviour
- You'll likely need to monitor their computer and device use more carefully. Move the computer out of their bedroom into a common area like the kitchen so you can check up on their activity. You may also need to limit the amount of time your child spends online.
- Depending on the severity of the attacks, and how long it's been going on, you may want to install monitoring software on the computer your child uses, as well as on their mobile device.
- Encourage your child to remove, as best they can, the hurtful messages, videos, photos, or other content they have posted.
- It's not realistic that your child will stop social networking completely; rather, they need to learn how to use it thoughtfully and respectfully – and you can help them with this by continuing to talk with them and setting up simple guidelines. For example, encourage your child to implement a one-minute rule. After they've written something to post, tell them to walk away from their device or computer for a minute – and then read it over one more time when they come back, and ask themselves if what they've written is hurtful.
- If your child's current friends have been engaging in bullying with your child, you may want to encourage them to spend less time with certain people, both in person and online or on the phone.
- If the bullying continues, you may need to take away their device or computer completely for a period of time.
- Educate yourself about the range of social networking sites available now, so you can stay on top of what your child may be doing. See Websites and apps your child may be using.
- Consider encouraging your child to apologize to the person they've hurt. However, exercise caution: the apology needs to be sincere. If it isn't sincere, it can increase your child's anger or resentment, and it could be perceived as a threat by the victim.
Step #3: Get outside help to deal with cyberbullying
- If school authorities become involved, encourage your child to cooperate, and model this by co-operating yourself. Make every effort to see things from all sides, and work towards a solution that will help your own child, as well as the one they've hurt.
- Become familiar with the relevant legal issues if the bullying has been severe. See the potential legal consequences of cyberbullying.
- If your child appears to be depressed, angry or withdrawn, showing signs that they themselves are struggling emotionally, seek professional help to support them. Bullying behaviour can indicate underlying emotional issues.
Things not to do if your child is involved in cyberbullying
Even a child who has hurt someone else needs help and parental support. Taking certain actions may make things worse, not better. It's best not to rush to action or consequences. You may also want to avoid these approaches.
- Don't 'freak out' on your child; talk with other adults to work through your anger and hurt.
- Don't try to deny the situation or find someone else to blame. Your child needs you as a guide and role model, and acknowledging the damage they have done is important.
- Blaming 'those girls at camp' or ' those new friends she met' may have a grain of truth, but you need to help your child see their role and what to do about it.
- If your child was cyberbullying in retaliation, this doesn't justify their own hurtful actions.
- Be careful not to assume your child 'could never do something like that'. Many parents are surprised to learn that their child is capable of behaviour they never would have imagined.
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