Recognizing Cyberbullying and How to Help

November 5, 2019

October was National Bullying Prevention Month, a time in which awareness and education are shared about cyberbullying, and its effect on children and teens. Schools and community organizations are dedicating time and space to share helpful examples of bullying for students and parents, providing resources in order to recognize it for themselves. Of course, bullying can now take place over digital devices, and in secret, and the online aspect prevents victims from truly separating themselves from the interaction, unlike in the past where kids could simply retreat home, and away from the bully. It can be difficult to notice cyberbullying at first, so parents should be mindful of changes in their child’s behavior, keep an open dialogue around how both their online and offline lives are going, and educate themselves. FOSI offers Understanding Cyberbullying as a resource for parents with information on cyberbullying’s many forms, how to recognize it, and tips if their child is bullied or bullies others.

As a parent, there is a lot you can do to alleviate the feelings experienced during bullying. It first starts by leading by example and becoming a good digital role model for your child. That can look many different ways, but in particular, treating others with respect and being kind online. Keep online discussions civil and think before posting on public articles. Acting as a positive example for your child teaches them the appropriate way to act online, potentially diverting negative energy away from bullying others to more productive uses of their screen time like learning a new skill or engaging in a hobby. Encourage your child to share uplifting stories, comments, and videos on their social feeds and to be an online role model for their friends and classmates.

If you notice your child is being targeted online, or if they have told you this is happening, recognize their hurt feelings and legitimize their emotions. It takes a lot of courage to come to a trusted adult with a problem that is creating personal distress. Respectfully listen to the story and try to get full details in order to properly formulate a plan later. Avoid minimizing their issue by talking openly and supportively.

Sometimes a child is neither a bully nor a victim, but it is equally as important to explain to them what to do if they observe cyberbullying while online. Educate your child on what to do if their friend or classmate is being bullied. Pass on a lesson about standing up for others and encourage your child to involve a teacher or parent if they see cyberbullying. Remind them to never bully back and reiterate that it is not tattling if they are helping a peer who is in a harmful situation. Empower your child to show citizenship and include others in their school projects, at sleepovers, and on social media.

Your child doesn’t have to face bullying alone if they know they have support and resources behind them. Continue talking about bullying throughout the year because bullying can happen at any time. Raising a resilient child that you’ve formed a trusting relationship with will make them feel comfortable coming to you when they see upsetting content online about themselves or someone else. Once you’ve established that foundation of trust, doing regular check-ins about their tech use sets you up for success, as a parent, in understanding cyberbullying.

For more resources about cyberbullying, visit these websites:

Written by

Erin McCowey

Erin McCowey is the Program Coordinator for the Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI) where she curates the Good Digital Parenting (GDP) program, supporting parents and educators as they navigate the digital world with their children and students. Erin coordinates resources and external contributions to GDP; publishing blogs, parenting resources, and parenting tools. In her work with GDP, she aims to boost the work of other experts in this space so that parents, educators, and other stakeholders are able to benefit from an overall greater digital experience. Erin contributes to FOSI’s events and communications practice, and regularly consults with member organizations on their parenting related resources.

Erin studied Political Science and International Studies at the University of Michigan, graduating in 2017. She joined FOSI as the Program Assistant in 2018 after previously serving as a Program Intern in the summer of 2016.