As I write this blog, I am listening to the snores of my five-year-old daughter that started Kindergarten this past week. I am excited yet concerned about what faces her at “big girl school.” She doesn’t have a smartphone, but we have already had a taste of what we may face in the future. There was a bully at her preschool this past year. Yes, I said preschool.
Mama Bear came out and my husband had to reel me back in so we can come up with a strategy to deal with it. We spoke to the school and the parents about our concerns and the situation was resolved. We had to have some difficult conversations with our daughter to help her understand why her “friend” would say and do mean things to her.
In a few years, we won’t be just facing the playground bully but the online bully as well. Bullies are getting younger and technology is getting better. This is our world now and as parents, we have to be prepared to deal with it.
What is Cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying occurs when a person repeatedly uses electronic technology like smartphones, tablets, social media platforms, blogs, and game consoles to send or post malicious content.
These acts can include:
- Spreading rumors
- Sending threats or hurtful comments
- Sharing compromising videos
Cyberbullies can also hurt their victims by excluding them from group chats and online activities. Bullies can also hack into a victim’s social media accounts and while posing as the victim, post damaging content that can lead to chaos and destruction.
The online environment fosters cyberbullying by creating a sense of anonymity and the convenience of not having to face your victim. These factors cause the cyberbully to do and say things they would never do or say in person. These online posts or acts can be viewed by hundreds or thousands of people leaving a victim with crushed self-esteem or reputation.
Who Do Cyberbullies Target?
One in four teens are victims of cyberbullying. If your child is a girl, they are even more likely to be bullied online. Cyberbullies target peers that are perceived as different. Whether that be race, religion, sexual orientation, the way they dress, or even being the new kid on the block. As adults, we are able to appreciate individualism but as kids, being different can make you a target.
Cyberbullies are even targeting themselves. Justin Patchin and Sameer Hinduja reported in their 2017 study that nearly 6% of teens posted something degrading about themselves online. Many of them had previously been victims of cyberbullying and use this form of digital self-harm as a cry for attention, or even as a joke.
What does the law say about Cyberbullying?
Our laws have finally started to catch up to some of the injustices done online. A cyberbully can face up to a year in jail and/or up-to a $1000 fine for a misdemeanor cyberbullying offense. A felony cyberbullying charge can result in up to five years in jail and/or up-to a $5,000 fine. Cyberbullies have even been charged with manslaughter when their actions have resulted in someone dying by suicide.
Even the Florida Department of Education has mandated that each public K-12 school implement and enforce anti-bullying policies. As parents, we should make ourselves familiar with these policies.
What Signs of Cyberbullying Should I Look For?
Be vigilant in paying attention to your child’s behavior and mood so you can quickly identify any changes. Look for an increase in absences or early pick-ups from school due to illness. If your child is nervous or jumpy when using their device or stops using them altogether, they may be experiencing cyberbullying.
Other red flags of cyberbullying include:
- Refusing to talk about online activities
- Becoming angry, depressed, or frustrated after going online
- Changes in academic performance, sleep, or eating habits
What Can I Do As A Parent About Cyberbullying?
Talk to your child about their life online and cyberbullying. Remember that they may have their own terms, like “drama” to describe cyberbullying. Ask them to identify a trusted adult they could seek help from if they are cyberbullied. Lastly, understand that that trusted adult may not be you but could be a family member, coach, teacher, or mentor.
Use technology to your advantage
Use technology to your advantage. There are software systems like Bark and apps like BullyBlocker that can help you monitor online bullying on your teen’s devices. Help your child learn ways to manage stress by having them list activities and coping techniques they can use to destress. Encourage them to save this list in their phones so they can quickly refer to it when they are stressed. Support your child in getting involved with more offline activities like sports or volunteering.
Screenshot the messages
If you find out that your teen is being bullied online, screenshot the posts and messages. To prevent your teen from being traumatized over and over again, delete the posts or messages on their devices after the evidence is stored elsewhere. Have them block the cyberbullies and report the incidents to school officials, law enforcement, and/or social media platforms.
Encourage them not to respond
Encourage your child to disempower the bully by not responding or retaliating because cyberbullies thrive on getting a reaction out of their victim. Help restore their self-esteem and become more resilient by including them in the process of advocating for themselves after the cyberbullying has occurred. Help them understand that it is not their fault and that the bully has the issue not them.
Parents, we have to remember to be easy on ourselves as we are the first generation to parent in the digital age. We are learning as we go. Let’s share in our challenges as it helps to know we are not alone in this. If you have found something that has helped your family successfully navigate the pitfalls of technology, share it with others.
Dr. Tenille Richardon-Quamina is a tenant of The Psychology Group Fort Lauderdale and is the owner of New Creations Counseling. Dr. Tenille specializes in online addictions (gaming, pornography, gambling, cybersex, and social media), online affairs, and cyberbullying.
Call (954) 488-2933 x10 or email today to discuss how her services can help you.
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