In the age of technology, bullying has gone viral. Kids today are not just dealing with power struggles and popularity contests in the schoolyard or on the bus. Cyberbullying can be committed from anywhere via smartphone, tablet, or computer, and it can happen anytime, day or night. It can be texted, liked, and shared on social media faster than it could ever be whispered. Nasty nicknames become hashtags, photos become memes and, worst of all, it all lives forever on the internet.
No, bullying today is nothing like it was when we were kids. It’s not a rite of passage or a harmless nuisance. Depending on the type and severity of the behavior, a bullied child may experience constant fear, shame, and sadness. As a result, children who are cyberbullied are more likely to use drugs and alcohol, do poorly in school, and develop health problems. In severe cases, cyberbullying has even led to suicide.
Unfortunately for most of today’s parents, this type of bullying is entirely new territory. The technology being used to commit these acts wasn’t even around in our youth, so we can’t rely on personal experience. And, no matter how “cool” and “up to date” we are, younger generations are almost always two steps ahead when it comes to the latest ways to communicate. Plus, they’re sneaky. While that’s nothing new, all of these factors combined can mean that parents are being left in the dark, unaware that their child is either being bullied by, witnessing the bullying of, or bullying one of their peers.
That’s why it’s important for parents of school-aged children to educate themselves on cyberbullying, from how to identify it to what to do about it… starting with these five things every parent should know:
- It happens more than you think. According to one source, 42 percent of teens reported being victims of cyberbullying. Even more shocking, one in five cyberbullied teens thought about suicide. That’s twice the rate of non-bullied teens. Of those, one in ten attempted to take their own lives. Cyberbullying is real, and your child may have already experienced it.
- Talking helps. Helping your kids understand what bullying is, as well as its online and offline consequences, is the best way to keep them safe. To be sure you get your message across, consider broadening your vocabulary to include common phrases and terms (like drama, gossip, and pranking) used to describe potential bullying activity.
- So does listening. The more our children trust us, the more they will be willing to share about their lives. Active listening, focusing on what the child is saying and reflecting it back to them without judgment, can be key in making kids and teens feel secure. As the saying goes, “seek to understand, then to be understood.”
- It’s not always obvious. Bullying can be overt, or it can come in the form of “microaggressions.” These types of assaults, insults, and invalidations are usually more broad, targeting a person’s age, sex, race, or other discriminating factor instead of the person directly. This type of cyberbullying can be more difficult to spot, so it’s imperative to ask your child if they feel as if they are being discriminated against in any way.
- Technology is not all bad. In most cases, technology is a beautiful, useful thing that helps our children learn and connect. We don’t want to take that away from them. Instead, take an active interest in your kids’ online activity. Follow them on social media, and be sure their privacy settings allow you access to their posts. You should also set guidelines for internet usage, but don’t be too strict. Studies show that over-monitoring leads to more instances of the behavior, rather than less.