How to protect kids from online bullying
Published: September 28, 2019
By: Sandi Schwartz
One of the biggest challenges parents currently face is how to manage our children’s access to technology. When they are young, we worry about them spending too much time staring at screens and not getting outside to play. As they get older, they start asking for their own cell phone, and then the world (the good, the bad and the ugly) is available right in the palm of their hand. Sadly, the rise in popularity of the internet, smartphones and text messaging has led to a major bullying problem online — cyberbullying.
The Scary Statistics
Nearly 43 percent of kids have been bullied online, according to PACER. This is the organization behind National Bullying Prevention Month, which is held every October to unite communities nationwide to inspire, educate and raise awareness about bullying prevention. Cyberbullying is now the most prevalent type of bullying, and 25 percent of kids who have been bullied say they have experienced it more than once.
Cyberbullying typically involves using technology to spread rumors about or write hurtful comments to another person. Technology has made bullying much easier because it has removed the traditional barriers of time and space between bullies and their victims. They can interact in real-time at any moment during or after school. The technology to hurt someone is available 24/7. Cyberbullying most commonly occurs via social media (Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter), text messages, instant messages (Facebook Messenger) and email.
Why are kids being bullied? According to TeenSafe data:
- 72 percent of children are cyberbullied because of their looks.
- 26 percent of victims are chosen due to their race or religion.
- 22 percent of harassed children feel that their sexuality was the cause of the bullying.
Other reasons include weak athletic ability, intelligence level, strong artistic skills, strong morals, refusal to join the crowd or having a small build (i.e., too short or too thin).
How CyberBullying Causes Stress and Anxiety
Like any traumatic event, cyberbullying can cause immediate and lingering stress and anxiety for the victims. They often are left feeling lonely, isolated, vulnerable, depressed and anxious. The top four anxiety disorders that victims of bullying can experience include post-traumatic-stress disorder, generalized-anxiety disorder, panic attacks and social-anxiety disorder.
Recent studies show a clear link between bullying and anxiety. In 2013, researchers at Duke University found that both bullies and people who are bullied have an increased risk
of depression; panic disorder; and behavioral, educational and emotional problems. Next, a 2014 study found that victims of frequent bullying had higher rates of depression, anxiety disorders and suicidal feelings nearly four decades after a bullying incident.
It is important to keep an eye out for warning signs that your children are being cyberbullied, such as these highlighted by stopbullying.gov:
- Noticeable increase or decrease in device use, including texting.
- They show strong emotional responses, like anger, to what is happening on their device.
- They hide their device from you and won’t tell you what they are doing on it.
- Social media accounts are shut down or new ones appear.
- They avoid social situations.
- They become withdrawn or depressed, or lose interest in friends, family and activities.
- Difficulty sleeping.
- Physical complaints like headaches, nervousness and stomach aches.
- They no longer want to go to school.
Ways to Protect Your Kids
Maneuvering through the world of ever-changing technology can be quite tricky, but it is now a huge part of parenthood. Just as we teach our children how to cross the street and not talk to strangers, it is imperative that we help keep them safe online as well. There are several ways that you can keep tabs on your children’s online activity and help prevent or manage cyberbullying.
Use Parental Controls: Digital parental controls are tools and software used to block inappropriate websites, impose screen time limits and prevent strangers from coming into contact with your children online. Installing the parental control app on your child’s device will allow you to monitor their activities and control what they are exposed to. You will also be able to view their messages, contacts, internet browsing history and emails.
There are many parental control programs available, including free options to get started with. Of course, each offers different tools and levels of control to consider. For example, restrictions for a child in elementary school may not be appropriate for a high school student.
You don’t have to secretly monitor your child’s online behavior. In fact, experts believe that you will have more success if you talk to your children about proper digital etiquette and cyberbullying so that they will be comfortable to open up to you if they witness or are involved in a bullying situation. Also, be aware that while parental controls do not necessarily decrease the risk of cyberbullying, they can serve as a helpful data collection tool in case an issue does occur.
Set Limits: We need to work together with our kids to figure out how best to manage screen time. Establish boundaries and limitations about appropriate digital behavior, content and apps. If you see a message that looks inappropriate, speak to them about it immediately. If you read about a dangerous game, talk to your kids about why you do not want them playing it. Let them know that you are not trying to invade their privacy, but that you love them, are on their side and just want to keep them safe.
Educate Them: Our children need our guidance. According to a recent survey, 24 percent of kids and teens report that they do not know what they would do if they were harassed online and 39 percent do not enable their privacy settings on social media.
Educate your kids about online dangers, including cyberbullying. Explain to them that the “friends” they meet online may not always be who they say they are. They should be careful about the type of information they share with others. Teach them how to block accounts and set up security features in various programs.
Overall, we need to guide them so they can make responsible decisions about technology on their own, and to speak up when a situation feels uncomfortable.
Encourage Them to Take a Stand Against Bullies: The actions of peers are more likely to stop a bully than anything else. Help your children understand that reporting a cyberbullying incident is not tattling. Most social media platforms and schools have clear policies and reporting procedures. If a classmate is cyberbullying someone, help your child report the situation to the school. If a child has received physical threats, or if a potential crime or illegal behavior is occurring, report it to the police.
Let’s give our children the power to stand up and speak out against bullying. By raising confident, emotionally intelligent, kind children, we are giving them the tools to recognize when a situation just doesn’t feel right. And remember to always love and support them through these challenges.