Is your child acting more upset, angry, hungry, antisocial, or tired lately? Has your child become less social online or become more negatively emotional when online? Does your child have health challenges that cause them to stand out at school, like Turner Syndrome (TS)? If so, your child may be a victim of bullying or cyberbullying.
With up to half of students taking school virtually this year, cyberbullying has never been more relevant. This article will explain what bullying and cyberbullying are, why your child may be vulnerable to them, and how to help them.
What Is Bullying?
According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, bullying is the “abuse and mistreatment of someone vulnerable by someone stronger, more powerful.”
Bullies hurt their victims in many ways, including:
- physically, including kicking, tripping, punching, spitting on, making rude gestures at, and breaking the property of the victim;
- socially, including excluding, spreading rumors about and publicly embarrassing the victim;
- verbally, including taunting, teasing, threatening, and making inappropriate sexual comments to the victim; and
- online, or cyberbullying, including sharing, posting, and sending content online about the victim that’s untrue, harmful, hostile, negative, or rude. The content can be sent either to the victim themselves or to others.
Why Do People Bully?
Children and adolescents who bully may do so because they:
- were or still are being bullied themselves;
- may have gone through traumatic events, like their parents divorcing, having a new sibling, or a dealing with the death of a loved one;
- have had or still have issues with their own insecurities and self-esteem;
- grew up or are growing up in a violent or larger family household;
- have had or still have poor access to education, which has led them to believe that bullying will solve their problems; or
- are unable to see that being violent or being a bully to others is an issue.
What Is Cyberbullying?
As previously stated, cyberbullying occurs online, when bullies post, share, and send hurtful content to either the victim or others online. This content is hostile, harmful, rude, or encourages others to have a negative perspective of the victim.
This can happen on anywhere on the Internet, including on :
- social media apps, including Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, Discord, and Tik Tok.
- online gaming communities, many of which have the ability to play online, but especially games that are multiplayer online battle arenas and third-person shooters like League of Legends and Gears of War respectively;
- online chat rooms and message boards, including Reddit, WeChat, Omegle, 4Chan and Quora;
- text messaging and phone messaging apps, including Kik, Telegram, and WhatsApp.
What Could Make My Child More Vulnerable to Bullying and Cyberbullying?
With bullying affecting 20% and cyberbullying affecting 15% of U.S. youth between the ages of 12 and 18, any child may become a target of cyberbullying at some point. Children with the following characteristics may be increasingly vulnerable:
- have learning challenges due to their health condition;
- are smaller than the average person;
- have social challenges like anxiety or depression, or other mental health challenges due to their condition;
- have physical challenges related to their health condition; or
- are “different” because of their race, gender identity, religious beliefs, likes and dislikes, etc.
How Can I Help My Child Become Less Vulnerable to Cyberbullying?
To help prevent your child from becoming a victim of cyberbullying, you can:
- talk with them about the importance of online safety and being kind to others, both online and in real life;
- teach them how to stand up to cyberbullying when online;
- teach them how to stay safe online, such as not accepting a stranger’s friend request, not resharing mean/hurtful posts, and not posting personal information;
- set certain guidelines that restrict what they can post or share, when they can use the Internet, and when they can use their phones;
- change the guidelines over time to take into account your child’s age, maturity level, and the new tech gadgets they’re using; and
- tell them to alert you or another trusted adult right away if they are cyberbullied, and let them know that, when they do, they won’t get punished.
How Can I Help my Child if They Become a Cyberbullying Victim?
If your child is cyberbullied, you should:
- let them know that they’re not alone in their experience and that there are trusted adults like you, teachers, and members of law enforcement who can help them;
- help them understand that everyone deserves to be respected, not bullied, no matter what;
- tell them that the bullying was not their fault and that, in order to stop it, they have to work together with you as a team;
- assist them with creating a plan to stop the bullying to empower them and give them confidence;
- help them record any proof that they were cyberbullied by saving/printing screenshots of the cyberbullying via text or social media and sending URLs of the pages with the bullying on it onto your e-mail account;
- once you have enough proof and understanding of your child’s situation, get the child’s school involved and have a meeting with the teachers, administration, principal, or anyone else you think should be there;
- at the meeting, discuss the bullying, how it’s harmed your child, your proof that it happened, and make a written plan on what should be done to stop it and when to check in with your child to see if the plan needs revision; and
- work with the companies that run the websites, apps, or games where your child was bullied and report what happened, so they can help you block the bullies on your child’s accounts and get extra proof of the bullying, if necessary.
What if the Cyberbullying Doesn’t Stop or Gets Even Worse?
If the bullying doesn’t stop or grows more violent or invasive of your child’s privacy, you can:
- tell your local law enforcement as soon as possible and show them your proof, so they can help you take the next step to stop the bullying, and maybe even help you identify the bully and file charges against them, if appropriate;
- read your school’s, state’s, and federal government’s laws on bullying and teach your child about them, too, so they will know their rights when fighting back against their bullies;
- have meetings with the school and school district to notify them of what is going on and determine how they should get involved;
- go to your state’s school safety centers and ask them to help you organize a plan to stop the bullying; and
- continue to emphasize the importance of your child telling you what the bullies are doing and keeping records of what they experience, as it will be incredibly valuable in the future, especially if the situation escalates to a legal case.
Cyberbullies can cause harm to a child in many places and in many ways. We hope you have learned some ways to help your child become less vulnerable to cyberbullying and how to help them if the situation occurs.
Written by Elizabeth (Liz) Rivera, TSF intern and blog post writer.