Bullying has long been an issue affecting children and teens. With the advent of cell phone and internet technology, this problem has expanded to include a form of harassment known as cyberbullying.
According to statistics collected by the i-SAFE Foundation, over half of today’s teens have been victims of this type of torment, and approximately the same number have admitted to participating in cyberbullying themselves. Over half of these victims never tell their parents, or report the event to any authority figure.
What is cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying is a term for any type of goading, teasing, persecution or threat that is presented by a minor child toward another minor child via digital technology. Media involved can include Internet applications, cell phones, chatrooms or other interactive devices. Sometimes social media, such as Facebook or Twitter is used to share embarrassing or threatening material about the victim. Statistics show that once a child is targeted, he or she usually becomes a repeat victim.
Cyberbullying is a serious problem. If not reported and properly handled, it can lead to loss of self-esteem; cause the child to avoid contact with friends or family; inspire him or her to seek revenge or to bully someone else; and in extreme cases, a young person may go so far as to commit suicide as a result of the incident.
What can parents do? How to Report Cyber Bullying?
Since many kids won’t report instances of cyber bullying, it’s a good idea for parents to be as involved as possible in their child’s internet or texting activities. Younger children can easily be monitored, with the computer in an open area of the home, and parents should set age-appropriate guidelines for computer and cell phone use for kids of all ages. Talk to your kids about internet safety and privacy, and make sure they understand what is and is not acceptable behavior online. Find out what social networking sites your kids use – many experts advise parents to join the sites themselves, basically to get a feel for what is going on in the child’s life. There are also many software programs that parents can install to monitor or restrict children or teens’ online activities.
Warning signs of cyberbullying
Parents should be concerned if their child begins to exhibit some of the following warning signs:
- Seeming to be nervous about receiving e-mails or texts
- Reluctant to talk about what he or she is doing on the computer
- A sudden lack of interest in using the computer or other electronic device
- Displaying anger or becoming withdrawn after using the computer
- Talking about revenge
- Hurriedly exiting out of what they were doing when a parent walks by
- Unusual mood swings
- Change in eating or sleeping habits or nightmares
- Complaints of not feeling well; usually headaches or upset stomach
- Lack of self-esteem
- Lack of interest in schoolwork; falling grades
- Self-destructive behaviors
- Talk of suicide or self-mutilation
- Becoming withdrawn and anti-social
Once parents are aware of or suspect a cyberbullying situation, it is very important to act on it. Instruct the child not to reply to any of the messages, and to block the victimizer. All incriminating e-mails or screenshots of chatroom or social media posts should be kept and printed out as evidence. Save the e-mails with full headers. Keep a record of dates, times and descriptions of all incidents of cyberbullying. In the case of text messages, save each message and report them to the cell phone provider.
Most online service providers and social media sites have rules against certain behaviors, and cyberbullying is a violation. If you have evidence that your child has been victimized on one of these sites, the first thing you should do is report the incident(s) to the site management so they can take action against the users who violated the terms of service. Most sites also have a help center that teaches how to block certain people and change account settings to control who can contact your child. Following are some helpful links for reporting issues on various social media sites:
- Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/report
- MySpace: http://www.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=help.reportabuse
- YouTube: http://www.google.com/support/youtube/bin/request.py?contact_type=contact_us
- Instagram: http://help.instagram.com/165828726894770/
- Twitter: https://twitter.com/CyberBullyAlert
There are certain cases in which cyberbullying is considered a crime, and should be reported to law enforcement. These cases include threats of violence; child pornography or sending sexually explicit material to a minor; taking a photo of someone in a place that clearly violates their privacy, such as a restroom; stalking and hate crimes. In addition, some states have anti-bullying laws that consider less malignant forms of cyberbullying to be a crime.