Good Digital Parenting
Blog | July 22, 2014

What to Do When Your Child Is Secretly Being Bullied Online

Freelance writer and journalist

Cyberbullying is something you hear about on the news. It happens to other people’s kids. Your children know how to stay safe while they are online. Right? 

Researchers report that most victims of cyberbullying don’t tell their parents, thus silently suffering without adult intervention. While they may tell a peer or sibling, embarrassment is often what causes the hesitancy in sharing with their parents. Children who are being cyberbullied often want to handle it on their own, or worry that if adults intervene, the harassment will only get worse. 

Talking to children about cyberbullying and recognizing that they are victims or perpetrators is a key responsibility for parents. In the past, however, bullying was much more easily recognized – it took place in hallways and locker rooms, not on the electronic highways of text messages and online comments. It is important that parents receive guidance on how to handle cyberbullying and the best ways to talk to their children about the dangers. 

The Facts 

Most explanations of cyberbullying describe three ways that modern cruelty differs from that of the past. First, cyberbullies can be anonymous, and many victims never face their tormentors, making the mysterious threat even scarier than the hulk in the hallways. Additionally, cyberbullying can happen 24/7 and is not confined to school hours. Finally, the messages can go viral instantly, spreading hurtful words and pictures to a wider audience than a sports team in a locker room. 

Early and Often 

This phrase is common in experts’ advice to parents about communicating with children about dangers in their lives. Children are never too young to hear a parent describe potentially bad situations – just use age-appropriate language. Cyberbullying is no exception to this advice. 

To an 8-year-old: “Please remember that when other people try to contact you on a phone or iPad or computer, you need to let us know so we can figure out who they are. Just like at home when you answer the door, you come get us when someone wants to come in.” 

Encouragement

Experts advise parents to approach reporting being bullied with positive emotions and not negative warnings. Children are more likely to tell an adult about being bullied on their devices if they believe that person will be sympathetic, comforting, and careful – not angry, blaming, and reactionary. 

To a 14-year-old: “I appreciate your willingness to share parts of your day with me. I really want to know about any concerns you have with your peers online. Please come to me when you feel threatened, and I promise not to react too swiftly or get crazy; I promise to listen closely and help guide you.” 

Diagnosing Cyberbullying 

The National Crime Prevention Center designed guides to help parents recognize that their child may be a secret victim of cyberbullying. Many of these signals are common to other childhood dangers like substance abuse and mental health problems: trouble sleeping, lack of appetite, loss of friends, and declining grades. Since these symptoms could indicate that your child is struggling with any number of problems, initiating and maintaining open conversations about cyberbullying contribute to preventing a host of issues remaining unseen. 

To your 17-year-old: “I notice you aren’t grabbing breakfast before you leave in the morning. Are you picking up a snack at school before you eat lunch?” 

Taking Action 

A survey of tip sheets for parents dealing with cyberbullying suggests some common advice. As with other bullying, deal with the issue immediately and directly. Instruct your child not to respond, as further contact typically evokes further abuse. Instead, save the evidence and try to block the sender. 

If you can identify the sender, and he is associated with an activity like school or sports, tell the leaders. Also, report the incident to the communications carrier – email, Facebook, etc. Avoid confronting the bullies or their families, leaving that job to professionals. 

Cyberbullying is a real threat in children’s lives, and parents need to talk to their children about what it is, how to prevent it, and what to do about if it does happen. These conversations show your children you care about them. As they age, they may resist your efforts to talk and monitor their electronic interactions, but know that their griping is a sign they feel loved and cared for. 

To any child: “It’s my job to protect and guide you as you grow. I do so, because I love you and want you to become a caring adult.” 

Cover image courtesy of Flickr.