Today’s access to technology allows young people to connect and communicate in new and meaningful ways to share and view ideas and interact with their peers. While these opportunities provide ways for young people to connect, they also present new challenges as parents try to ensure that their children are safe while online. One of the most serious of these new challenges is the rise of cyberbullying.
What is cyberbullying exactly? While the definitions vary, most consist of the following: electronic forms of contact, an aggressive act, intent, repetition, and harm to the target. There is still a good deal of confusion around cyberbullying. Here are five things you should know:
1. While all bullying hurts, there are a few characteristics unique to cyberbullying.
Online bullying can be just as devastating as it is offline. Offline bullying is different in key ways, including:
- The behavior can reach a very large audience. For example, a single cyberbullying post or message can be forwarded and shared, with the potential to go viral.
- Online bullying can reach anyone, anywhere, anytime. The 24/7 access that students have to each other means that, where traditionally bullying was limited to the school and community, there is no getting away from online bullying, even at home with family.
- It can be done anonymously. Those being bullied online might not even know who is targeting them, which can lead them to question who they can trust.
- The behavior and actions are often covert. Online bullying can be challenging for adults to detect, as students often tend to gravitate to online environments to which adults don’t have access, such as group chats, texts, or newer social media sites.
2. Cyberbullying can start before your child is on social media at age 13.
Often, we think that cyberbullying is something that happens only on social media platforms, which due to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA) regulations, require individuals to be at least 13 before signing up and using these services. However, youth can be subjected to or participate in inappropriate online behavior as soon as they have access to technology. Examples include gaming sites, where children can view or add comments, text messages, or in group chats or via emails.
3. It’s important to have the conversation about cyberbullying early and often.
Because cyberbullying can start long before they are able to use social networking sites, it’s important to start the conversation about cyberbullying with your child as soon as they have access to a cell phone, tablet device, or computer.
- Have the cyberbullying conversation. As you open the subject for discussion, let your child know that you recognize that being connected online with friends is an important part of their life, but you also want them to be safe. Explain that if something harmful is communicated online, it’s bullying and it’s important that you know about it.
- Set cyber safety rules. Just as you set safety rules in your child’s physical world, do the same for your child’s cyberworld. Talk about what is appropriate to share online, who they can interact with, hours that technology can be used, and how you might monitor their accounts.
- Continue to be involved in your child’s online use. Once you have established rules, be sure to remind your child about their importance. As your child grows and has access to new technology, evaluate your online safety guidelines to determine if they are still effective and age-appropriate.
4. Documentation is key.
Another unique characteristic of cyberbullying is that it leaves a trail of evidence. Even though most online bullying is done covertly, anything that is posted online can often be traced. If your child does experience cyberbullying, documentation is key. It allows you to develop a record of what is happening to your child. This history is useful when talking with your child’s school, law enforcement, or others who might help intervene. Screenshot and save any posts or texts containing bullying. It can also be helpful to print emails or webpages containing negative behavior or posts.
5. Most schools have policies to address cyberbullying.
Every state has a bullying prevention law or policy that helps districts and schools address bullying. These laws and policies often require that schools address cyberbullying in their district policy. Some state laws also cover off-campus behavior that creates a hostile school environment. If your child experiences cyberbullying, ask to see the school’s bullying prevention policy to learn more about the role the school can play in prevention. Determine your point of contact at the school for reporting cyberbullying and then provide your documentation to that person.
For more information on cyberbullying and how to protect your child, visit PACER’s National Bullying Prevention Center for free digital resources at PACER.org/Bullying.