Online bullying, also called cyberbullying, is defined by a United States government site as occurring on “digital devices like cell phones, computers, and tablets . . . through SMS, Text, and apps, or online in social media, forums, or gaming where people can view, participate in, or share content.” It typically includes “sending, posting, or sharing negative, harmful, false, or mean content about someone else,” including “personal or private information about someone else causing embarrassment or humiliation.”
Children are signing up for social media accounts by the age of 12 and most kids have a smartphone by age 10.
This type of harassment can be especially challenging because digital devices can be used to communicate 24/7. With this continual access to technology, it can be difficult for people being bullied to find relief. And until the information is reported and removed, it’s typically permanently in the public eye. Because parents and teachers may not actually see it taking place, it can be harder for a trusted adult to realize what’s happening. Here’s more information about online harassment.
How to Stop Online Harassment
If you discover that your child is the target of online bullying, let him or her know that these actions are not his or her fault and that, in reality, what’s going on says more about the bully than about your child. Offer comfort and support, telling your child you’ll address this situation together.
- Encourage your child to NOT respond to any online harassment; don’t fuel the fire.
- Keep copies of any threatening text messages, photos, or other communications; you can take screenshots for future use, whether that means a conversation with the school, another parent or the police.
- Talk to your child about approaching the school to talk about the situation and create a plan that both of you feel comfortable with using. Often schools already have plans in place to address online bullying. You can start the conversation with your child’s teacher, the school principal, the nurse or another trusted adult.
Your child can usually block the bully from sending text messages or other threatening communications, and you can encourage your child not to check to see if anything new has been posted online, perhaps on social media pages. Also consider parental control options so you can see who is communicating with your child online. Ask to follow or friend your child on social media channels to can observe what’s going on, and teach your child how to be safe online, including not sharing any personal information.
Here is more helpful information for dealing with bullies.
If Your Child Bullies Someone
Sometimes, parents discover that it’s their own child who is engaging in online harassment. This can be quite disheartening, but it’s important to deal with the situation head-on, explaining how hurtful this behavior can be to another person. You may need to restrict access to technology outside of emergency reasons, using strict parental controls on them to enforce your restrictions.
You may want to talk to your child’s teacher to get at the heart of why your child is engaging in these behaviors. Sometimes, therapy can help if maybe anger issues are involved.
As a parent, you can model good behavior by demonstrating how to treat other people.
DoSomething.org suggests focusing on positive actions online. You could encourage your children, if they are on social media, to fill up their friends’ pages with positive posts. You can also talk to your children’s schools about creating a positivity page where people can post about selfless acts that they see others performing at school.