Spotting and Addressing Cyberbullying in Teens: A Parent’s Guide
The life of a teenager is fraught with peril. From a changing hormonal makeup to the establishment of potentially lifelong identities and the formation of their own sense of morality, it is a time of personal upheaval and confusing change.
Making this time even more stressful for many teens is the existence of bullying in one’s life. While bullying in the traditional sense remains, it has also taken on a new form. The prevalence of the internet and social media in young people’s lives has meant a rise in cyberbullying, which in many ways can be worse than traditional bullying. Parents must be aware of the signs that their child may be the victim of cyberbullying, and how they should go about preventing or resolving the problem.
Spotting a Problem
If you ever see your child exhibiting behavior which you believe qualifies as bullying, sit them down and explain to them the damage they may be inflicting upon those who they are treating improperly. However, this article will focus primarily on the effects that cyberbullying takes on its victims.
One of the factors which most indicates a child will be at-risk for cyberbullying victimhood is the amount of time they spend online. If your child spends what you consider to be a disproportionate amount of time online and/or on social media, consider that this is putting them at risk for victimhood.
Gossip and rumor-spreading have been found to be the primary behaviors which constitute cyberbullying, and many victims either ignore or pretend to ignore the problem. However, in many cases a child’s behavior will change drastically. While 40% of internet-using youth in the United States reported being cyberbullied, only 10% said they would tell their parents about the problem, making vigilance by parents of their child’s changing demeanor crucially important.
Victims of bullying tend to be more submissive by nature, but this may be exacerbated by active bullying. In addition, victims tend to be withdrawn, isolated, uncooperative, less sociable, and lacking in friends. If your child exhibits these traits, consider that they may be the result of persistent cyberbullying, and urge that they open up about any problems they may be experiencing.
Addressing a Problem
Once you have noticed behavioral changes or deficiencies in your child, sit them down for a serious yet empathetic discussion. Ask if they are dealing with a bully, and if not, urge them to tell you what is contributing to their changes in behavior. Assuring the child that you too have dealt with bullying, and that you are there to be a sounding board for their personal problems is very important.
If cyberbullying is, in fact, the root of your child’s problems, begin by restricting internet use. Of course, explaining to them that it is in their own interest will reduce the amount of likely backlash. Then, reporting the problem – preferably with evidence of bullying in hand – to the school’s administration is the next step in stymieing the problem. Approaching the bully’s parent in a calm, reasonable way may also be an option to end the bullying, as parents often are the most influential force in that child’s life.
Lastly, inform your child about how to stand up for themselves. Tolerating the forms of microaggressions – specifically microinsults, microassaults, and microinvalidation – is in many cases an open-door for further bullying. These forms of less overt insults and slights should not be tolerated, and equipping your child with the verbal tools to combat even the most mild forms of bullying is a key to lifelong coping.
Technology has bred new forms of bullying. While the effects are similar to those of bullying, some unique differences – primarily the ever-present threat which social media poses on cyberbullying victims – means that bullying may be present in the home without parents even being aware. However, with consistent awareness of a child’s demeanor, open communication in discussing problems, and well-informed solutions to resolving any issues which may arise, parents can do their part in combating cyberbullying.