Bullying and hazing are serious, some say epidemic issues, year round. October is National Bullying Prevention Month; our opportunity to pause and focus on bullying and bullying prevention awareness. It's an opportunity to focus our attention to both the problems that cause so much harm -- and also the solutions that offer protection from trauma as well as opportunities to build resilience for individuals, families and communities.
Cyberbullying is more than a buzzword in the discussion about bullying. It's a serious and growing problem, and, to our horror, a major cause of suicide in young people who are victims of online harassment and intimidation.
Though the threat and dangers of online harassment is very real, so are the solutions. And these solutions are practical and simple to implement.
Is your child is a victim of cyberbullying?
Recent studies about cyberbullying incidents have found that about one in four teens have been victims of cyberbullying and about one in six admit to being the bully, harassing someone else online through social media. In some studies, more than half of the teens surveyed said that they've experienced abuse through social and digital media.
Signs that your child may be the victim of cyberbullying:
- they are being very secretive or protective of their digital life
- they withdraw from family members, friends, and activities
- they avoid school or group gatherings
- their grades are 'slipping' and they are "acting out" in anger at home
- they have changes in mood, behavior, sleep, or appetite
- they want to stop using the computer or cellphone
- they are nervous or jumpy when getting an instant message, text, or email
- they avoid discussions about computer or cellphone activities
How parents can help
If you discover that your child is being targeted by cyberbullies, offer comfort and support.
Let your child know that it's not his or her fault, and that bullying says more about the bully than the victim. Praise your child for doing the right thing by talking with you about it. Reassure your child that you will figure out what to do about it together. (Read more about how to Spot & Stop bullying, here.)
Encourage your child not to respond to cyberbullying. But do keep the threatening messages, pictures, and texts, as these can be used as evidence with the bully's parents, school, employer, or even the police. Take, save, and print screenshots of all abuse and harassment perpetrated online.
Let someone at school (the principal, school nurse, or a counselor or teacher) know about the situation. Many schools, school districts, and after-school clubs have protocols for responding to cyberbullying. These vary by district and state. Your local law enforcement agency and school should be able to inform you of your rights to report abuse and to direct you to community-based resources that offer support and advocacy services.
Before reporting the problem, let your child know that you plan to do so, so that you can work out a plan that makes you both feel comfortable.
The bottom line
No one should have to dread checking their social media or email messages, feeling sick and sad about abuse and harassment online -- but this is a reality for too many people of all ages. Especially for young people who are victims of cyberbullying, the constant barrage of abuse often results in lifelong trauma and can lead to the most dire consequences.
Working together, we can call out cyberbullies, stop the harassment, and provide comfort, counsel and support for victims to help them heal.
Here are links to some evidence-based and professional resources to learn more, and get help:
What is Cyberbullying from stopbullying.gov
11 Facts About Cyberbullying from DoSomething.org
Prevent Bullying from the Centers for Disease Control
Get Help Now from stopbullying.gov
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