Cyberbullying: Is it Happening to Your Child?

As a parent, you generally have a good idea of when your child is being themselves or being distant or upset. There are usually pretty clear indicators that tell you when something is off or something is right. However, there are the occasions when parents cannot tell if something is wrong, they miss the signs or they are simply doubting the thoughts that something could truly be wrong.

When it comes to our modern-day youth and children, there are a lot of new technologies and habits that were never around 10 to 15 years ago. With these changes, there comes a lot of new challenges and difficulties as well. One challenge we are seeing is the rise in bullying, more specifically cyberbullying. Cyberbullying is defined as, “bullying that takes place using electronic technology. Electronic technology includes devices and equipment such as cell phones, computers, and tablets as well as communication tools including social media sites, text messages, chat, and websites.” Even just ten years ago, this was not a problem like it is today.

According to the 2017 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 14.9% of high school students were electronically bullied in the 12 months prior to the survey.

The most common places where cyberbullying occurs are:

  • email,
  • text messaging apps,
  • instant messaging apps and chat rooms, and
  • social media platforms, such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter.

As you can see, these environments are hard to monitor and it’s unlikely parents and educators will overhear or witness this type of bullying take place which makes it more difficult to take action to stop it. Another thing that makes cyberbullying more difficult to prevent and regulate than traditional, face-to-face bullying is that friends, acquaintances and even strangers have access to the information our kids and teens share online and these people can share our teen’s status updates, pictures, and more with the click of a button.

Once the information is shared, almost anyone has access to “comment” and say whatever they want. When a teen’s friends are commenting on her social media page, the comments are usually positive and encouraging. But sometimes someone can comment something mean or hateful which can be detrimental to that teen’s self-esteem or perception of herself.

 

Cyberullying also has the power to totally destroy someone’s online reputation because schools, employers, colleges, clubs, and others who may be researching an individual now or in the future can look up a person’s social media profiles to learn more about him. If a cyberbully has shared inappropirate pictures or messages of a teen, his or her online reputation can be severely damaged.

According to StopBullying.Gov, Cyberbullying has unique concerns in that it can be:

  • Persistent – Digital devices offer an ability to immediately and continuously communicate 24 hours a day, so it can be difficult for children experiencing cyberbullying to find relief.
  • Permanent – Most information communicated electronically is permanent and public, if not reported and removed. A negative online reputation, including for those who bully, can impact college admissions, employment, and other areas of life.
  • Hard to Notice – Because teachers and parents may not overhear or see cyberbullying taking place, it is harder to recognize.

With cyberbullying becoming more and more prevalent, it is crucial that parents understand the warning signs. Parent need to know what to look for when asking “Is my child being bullied?” or “Is my child bullying others?”. On stopbullying.gov, there are a few key signs that will help any parent identify a bully-situation quickly and effectively. The signs of a child being cyberbullied is as follows:

  • Frequent headaches or stomach aches, feeling sick or faking illness
  • Changes in eating habits, like suddenly skipping meals or binge eating. 
  • Difficulty sleeping or frequent nightmares.
  • Declining grades, loss of interest in schoolwork, or not wanting to go to school
  • Sudden loss of friends or avoidance of social situations
  • Feelings of helplessness or decreased self esteem
  • Self-destructive behaviors such as running away from home, harming themselves, or talking about suicide

These signs seem to be clear, but as a parent you must remember that these signs come on quite gradually and not all at once.

The signs to look for if you think you child may be the bully are as follows:   He or she…

  1. Gets into physical or verbal fights
  2. Has friends who bully others
  3. Is increasingly aggressive
  4. Gets sent to the principal’s office or to detention frequently
  5. Has unexplained extra money or new belongings
  6. Blames others for his or her problems
  7. Doesn’t accept responsibility for actions
  8. Is competitive and worries about personal reputation or popularity

Regardless of if your child is being bullied or is the bully, each parent has a responsibility to take action to prevent further damage. In a study conducted on youth in Italy, they looked at the relationship between self-esteem and cyberbullying. As most can imagine, the findings suggested a strong relationship between the two variables. If a child is being bullied or is the bully, measures need to be taken and discussions must be had.

As a parent, remember that you have the responsibility to protect your child, love and teach them, and help them to grow up as confident and as happy as they can be. Preventing bullying and cyberbullying can help them feel protected and loved.

For more information on bullying, see the following ACPeds resources:

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References

www.stopbullying.gov

Palermiti, A. L., Servidio, R., Bartolo, M. G., & Costabile, A. (2017). Cyberbullying and self-esteem: An Italian study. Computers In Human Behavior, 69136-141. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2016.12.026

Watts, L. K., Wagner, J., Velasquez, B., & Behrens, P. I. (2017). Cyberbullying in higher education: A literature review. Computers In Human Behavior, 69268-274. doi:10.1016/j.chb.2016.12.038

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