Cyberbullying is the practice of harassing, threatening, or intentionally embarrassing another person online. Unfortunately, research shows that cyber bullying on social media is common — and the consequences can be devastating. If your child is suddenly more secretive about online activity or seems upset while logged on, they may be dealing with a bully. Here are some tips for when you, as a parent, should step in to offer help and support.
You love the internet and, chances are, your older child or teenager does, too. From exchanging silly Snapchats with friends to harnessing the power of Google to simplify school projects, many teens are using tech.
Unfortunately, there’s a darker side to the culture of young people online. In a Pew Research Center survey conducted in 2022, nearly half of U.S. teens reported experiencing bullying online.
It’s a troubling trend since cyberbullying — the practice of harassing, threatening, or intentionally embarrassing another person online — can take a serious toll on mental and emotional health.
8 signs your child may be dealing with a cyberbully
Since cyberbullying takes place through phones and other devices, how can you know if your child is being targeted?
For starters, it’s smart to talk with your child about cyberbullying and about bullying in general. Discuss what kids can do if they experience bullying or aggressive behavior, either online or in person, and encourage them to come to you if they need support.
Still, research suggests that only about half of students who are bullied tell an adult so keep an eye out for these clues:
Your child is suddenly going online much less, much more, or suddenly deletes social media accounts. Any sudden and dramatic change in habits could be a red flag.
Your child is suddenly much more secretive about their online activity.
They seem nervous or upset when reading text messages or other online communications.
Your child seems withdrawn socially, engaging less with friends and peers.
They’re reluctant to attend school or engage in other activities that were recently enjoyable.
Your child’s general mood has changed. They seem frequently irritable, impatient, worried, or frustrated.
There’s a negative change in their physical habits, such as eating or sleeping less.
How to cope with and recover from online bullying
Some of the tactics used by cyberbullies may include circulating embarrassing photos, impersonating someone online, and creating memes designed to humiliate a peer.
It can be painful to discover that your child is being harassed — and it’s incredibly difficult for a young person to be the target of such negative attention.
If your child is facing a cyberbully, it can be tempting to strike back or engage in a negative exchange. Unfortunately, this can embolden the aggressor and make the situation worse.
Instead, work together with your child to take the following actions:
Encourage them to screenshot the messages including the sender’s name or handle and the site or provider through which the message was sent. Then, report the harassment to the app or site that hosted the communication.
If possible, help your child block the harasser on the site where bullying is taking place.
If the harassment continues, report the incident to your child’s school. Some schools have anti-bullying policies that include cyberbullying. Familiarize yourself with the school’s policy and make sure the correct steps are taken to address the harassment.
If you are able to identify the bully, consider the pros and cons of talking to the bully’s parents.
If the harassment is severe and includes threats to your child’s safety or well-being, report the incident to law enforcement.
After taking these steps to resolve the immediate incident, help your child with the emotional fallout of being bullied by offering to connect them with a therapist, encouraging engagement in other social outlets, and maintaining an open dialogue.
When dealing with an incident of , social media bullying it’s also important to consider all perspectives. What you see online may only be part of the whole picture.
Additionally, you may discover that your child is a cyberbully. In this case, consider constructive ways to respond such as determining the root cause of the bullying and instilling empathy in your child.
Be proactive to stop bullying before it starts
In addition to reactive measures after an incident, there are proactive things you can do at home to help keep cyberbullying at bay:
Keep the family computer in a public space.
Try adopting a new family rule: Don’t send messages or photos online unless they’re okay for everyone to see. Unfortunately, bullies can forward messages or photos out of context in an attempt to shame or embarrass their target.
Teach your child to ignore online messages from unknown people.
Use parental controls to alert you of concerning content.
Also, our Family Digital Safety tools can help you stay a step ahead, monitoring more than 30 of the most popular apps and social media platforms — including many text and email providers — for signs of cyberbullying and other online threats.