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:
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.
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.