If you thought bullying was something that only happened to kids in schools or on the playgrounds, think again. Cyberbullying is just as insidious as in-person harassment, and can happen just as frequently, especially when kids are glued to their digital devices. So if you’re finding that your kids are online more lately, you’ll need to know how to navigate virtual bullying, both to empower them and keep them safe.
“Bullying was once something that occurred in isolated situations on the playground, after school or during school hours,” Dr. Beatrice Tauber Prior, Psy.D., a clinical psychologist in Cornelius, NC tells Romper in an email. “Now given the advances in technology, bullying can occur at any time, at any place and can go on for years without ceasing due to the ever-present virtual world we live in.” The worst part is that it might not always be apparent that your child is the victim of online bullying.
An estimated 1 in 5 kids in the U.S. has been bullied, Do Something reported. Additionally, 160,000 teens have skipped school as a result of being bullied. Suicide was the tenth leading cause of death overall in the U.S. in 2018, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), with over 48,000 fatalities; it was the second leading cause of death for people between the ages of 10 and 34.
Here's how to spot signs of bullying, how to help your child, and most importantly, what your child's rights are.
Support Your Child’s Feelings
Being bullied can make your child feel anxious and angry, but also ashamed, too. (That might explain why victims of bullying aren’t likely to come forward to talk about their abuse, Psychology Today reported.) That's why you need to be as supportive as possible during this process. “Parents must be clear and direct with their children that they support them and take this very seriously,” says Dr. Wetter. “Let them know that they are loved, that at times people can act in ways that are cruel, but that does not mean everyone acts that way, or that those comments are true.” Validate your child's feelings, so that they understand that this is unacceptable behavior.
Check Your Own Emotions
When you find out that your child might be a victim of bullying, you’re bound to have a wide range of emotions, from sadness to rage—and that’s all normal. But before you let go with how you really feel, try to stay calm, for your sake as well as your child’s. “Take a moment to listen before responding. It is incredibly important to take note of your own response as you listen to your child because your child will likely mimic your response,” advises Dr. Prior. Because if you respond with anger, angst, anxiety, then your child will act the same way.
Know Your Rights
Although you probably want to punch your child’s bully in the face, you’ll need to know what rights you and your family have in this situation. “As with any situation involving abuse, parents have the absolute right to protect the emotional and physical health/well-being of their child,” advises Dr. Wetter. “The first step would be to report the bullying to the family of the other person responsible for the assault (if known). It threats of safety or harm are made, it should immediately be brought to the attention of the authorities (police).” And if the bullying involves a kid at your child’s school, let the administration know. Finally, you should delete any apps that your child is using where the bullying has occurred, says Dr. Wetter, “not as a punishment, but as a form of protection.”
Help them Understand The Consequences
Virtual bullying can run the gamut from teasing and taunting, to threatening and stalking, End Cyberbullying.org reported. But when it crosses into the territory of nude images, that can be a real problem. Kids "should never share personal information or send nude or even semi-nude photos (sexting) of themselves to anyone,” Ross Ellis, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of STOMP Out Bullying, tells Romper in an email. “When sharing nude or semi-nude photos the kid or teen who sends them could end up becoming a registered sex offender.” If your child receives an obscene image, they should delete it from their phone right away, and never send one, even if a bully is harassing them to do so, Kids Health reported.
And while this can be an uncomfortable subject, you can use this as a jumping off point to talk about family values, advises Dr. Carla Marie Manly, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and cyberbullying expert. “Openly discuss family values," she says. "Create an understanding of what is appropriate and expected regarding technology, violence, sexuality, and the respectful treatment of others.”
Unfortunately, having a talk about bullying (whether it's in-person or cyberbullying) isn’t a one-and-done deal. It should be an ongoing conversation about issues that might be facing your child so that if (or when) it happens, both you and your child are prepared. “The earlier parents initiate these conversations and talk about bullying, the better off their kids will be,” says Ellis. “By talking about the potential risks and rewards often, your kids will be that much safer. Let them know they can come to you with any cyber problem.”
Finding out that your child is a victim of cyberbullying can be devastating. But by creating open lines of communication and knowing your rights, you can help both you and your child not only survive but come out stronger from the experience.
Dr. Beatrice Tauber Prior, Psy.D., clinical psychologist
Dr. Michael G. Wetter, Psy.D., FAPA, clinical psychologist
Dr. Carla Marie Manly, Ph.D., clinical psychologist and cyberbullying expert
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