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Understanding and Navigating Cyberbullying with your Child

Authored by: Danielle Emerson & Annamarie Obaya

The internet has become an important part of today’s society, with at least 3.5 billion of us relying on its benefits. Although the internet has many benefits, one of the biggest drawbacks is the increase in cyberbullying. Cyberbullying takes on many forms, impacts youth and adolescents, and can escalate into mental health implications if left unaddressed. There are key ways to protect yourself and your children/adolescents from this escalating issue to make the use of the internet a positive and safe experience. The internet is a great tool when navigated properly and precautions are put into place to stop cyberbullying from escalating!

What is Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying can occur online through social media, text messaging, online chats, e-mail, and online gaming. The goal of those who cyberbullying is often to embarrass and humiliate others by sharing personal, false, negative, or harmful information about them. The big problem with cyberbullying is that things can be deleted by the original source, but downloading and screenshotting those interactions can perpetuate the continued circulation of the material. The internet is permanent and public! Perpetrators of cyberbullying can hide behind the keyboard and may engage in behaviors without seeing the impact and dealing with the consequences of their actions as they might if the bullying occurred face to face.

Types of Cyberbullying

There are many forms of cyberbullying that exist, and they can occur on many different platforms; Instagram being the one it has been found to occur on the most (LIU Palmer School of Library and Information Services, Cyberbullying Statistics). There are at least six different types of cyberbullying (Social Media Victims Law Center, Cyberbullying):

  1. Cyber-stalking, a criminal offense and is when an individual watches another individual closely online making threats and/or false accusations 
  2. Exclusion, when an individual is intentionally excluded from message threads or chats 
  3. Outing, the act of revealing another’s gender or sexual identity online, without that individual’s consent 
  4. Dissing, when an individual shares mean and harmful information about someone, intentionally trying to harm their reputation 
  5. Harassment, when an individual sends mean messages constantly to another individual 
  6. Trolling. posting hurtful comments online with the intention of hurting them

Impacts of Cyberbullying

The main risk factor in becoming involved with cyberbullying is being online and others having the opportunity to bully. This applies to everyone on the internet! Knowing the signs, symptoms, and implications of cyberbullying can help others be aware of concerns that might arise in their peers or children.

Cyberbullying can cause an increase in the following mental health challenges

  • depressive symptoms,
  • suicidal thoughts,
  • eating disorders,
  • sleep disorders,
  • and social anxiety
Warning signs and implications that follow being cyberbullied can include
  • lower school attendance,
  • poor academic performance,
  • increased stress, anxiety, anger, depression,
  • feeling scared and alone,
  • feeling ashamed,
  • poor concentration,
  • and lower self-esteem.
In the most extreme cases, cyberbullying can lead to suicide. Suicide is the second leading cause of death in adolescents and young adults. According to the National Institues of Health (NHI), a study done in Philadelphia produced results such that participants who had experienced cyberbullying were four times as likely to report suicidal thoughts or suicide attempts.

What Parents Can Do?

Parents can begin taking precautions against cyber bullying.

  1. The first way to begin maintaining security is by knowing your child’s passwords to online accounts. 
  2. Establishing weekly check-ins, where you and your child look through their social media presence together, while openly discussing the findings. 
  3. Educate yourself on social media platforms.
  4. Discussing internet dangers with your child will also help to establish an open dialogue with your child. 
  5. Assess if your child is mature enough to have an online presence, this along with education on internet dangers will help your child recognize signs of cyberbullying earlier.

Keep in mind that while we often look out for signs that our child is being cyberbullied, it is also important to monitor your child for signs of bullying others. While everyone hopes their child doesn’t engage in this behavior or “knows better,” parents often find out that their child is actually engaging in this behavior. Your child cyberbullying others is usually a cry for help in itself! Those that may engage in cyberbullying of others may have unsupervised access to the internet, experience feeling unsafe at school, and lack strong peer and parental relationships. Talking to your child about how to interact appropriately with others, in addition to the above recommendations should be implemented!

Additional Thoughts for Preventing and Addressing Cyberbullying

Protective factors help children and adolescents navigate challenges like cyberbullying. This can include having strong support systems to feel comfortable confiding in (both peer and parental supports), learning empathy and social skills, having strong self-esteem, and learning how to cope appropriately when things do not go according to our plan (which happens a lot unfortunately!).

Another protective routine to add to your regiment is limiting screen time. This can include allowing your child time to disconnect before heading to bed for the night and encouraging children to spend more time outside with their friends.

Cyberbullying is a reality that comes from increased internet use. It takes a village to monitor for, provide protection, and limit implications of bullying over the internet with our children and adolescents!


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