By Lisa Pecos
There have always been bullies, but the internet has given mean kids a whole new platform to bully others, and this new platform comes with some serious concerns that parents need to be aware of. Many people tend to think that being on the receiving end of occasional bullying is a normal part of childhood, and that it might even build character. But as recent events have shown, cyberbullying is a serious matter and needs to be treated as such.
For parents of bullied children, it has always been difficult to figure out how and when to get evolved. We want our kids to learn to stand up for themselves, and a little moderate bullying has never seriously hurt anyone, but the anonymity of the web seems to foster a level of cruelty and bloodthirstiness that is rare in real-life bullying. And since today’s kids take the web seriously and use it as one of their primary modes of communication, online threats and insults can be just as stinging as real-life ones.
What Is Cyberbullying?
We are all familiar with traditional bullying; it usually involves repeated acts of cruelty perpetuated by one individual or group upon another. Real-life bullying can become very serious, rising to the level of abuse and often leading to long-term mental and social effects. Suicides resulting from bullying are not unheard of.
Cyberbullying is the same, except the repeated acts of cruelty happen over the web rather than on the playground or after school. In many cases, cyberbullying is straightforward; a young person receives repeated threats or harassment or mean notes via social networking sites, emails, instant messengers, or text messages. Many of the high-profile cyberbullying cases have been of this nature, with bullies assaulting their victims with repeated threats, sexual remarks, or hate speech.
Other cases of cyberbullying have involved groups of kids ganging up to harass individuals online. For example, a well-publicized case in western Massachusetts involved a 15-year-old girl who committed suicide after being bullied by classmates both at school and online. As testament to the cruelty kids are capable of, even after the girl had committed suicide many of her tormentors continued to leave taunting notes on her Facebook memorial page.
Signs of cyberbullying
Because kids are often reluctant to talk about their online activities or the cruelty they face at school, parents are often left in the dark about cyberbullying. If you are worried that your child may be a victim, here are some signs to look for:
- agitation or emotional distress after using the internet or phone;
- withdrawal from social activities and former friends;
- poor performance at school;
- acting out at home;
- avoiding school or school-related activities;
- abrupt changes in behavior.
What you can do
If you strongly suspect that your child is being bullied online, bring it up as soon as possible. Reassure your child that it is not her fault, that the bullying will pass, and that it is just kids being cruel. Talk to her about how you can work together to handle the situation. She may have concerns about tattling or getting the other kids in trouble, but if the bullying is truly severe, then you might consider talking to school officials.
While many school districts are still ill-equipped to deal with this emerging issue, the good news is that many teachers and administrators have caught on. Some districts now have established protocols for these situations, so there is a very good chance that the school officials you approach will handle the situation with sensitivity.
Meanwhile, parents can also mitigate cyberbullying by keeping tabs on what their kids do online. The web is a vast and potentially dangerous world, and minors should not be allowed to roam free with no supervision. Set up parental controls to limit online access, and be sure to talk to your children about online privacy and security.
Of course, bullies have parents too, and finding out that your child is a bully can be upsetting in its own ways. If you catch your child being mean online, understand that it may have to do with underlying mood or aggression problems. Try to get through to them how serious bullying can be, and try to figure out why they are acting out this way. Also consider talking to a guidance counselor or a child therapist about your options.