For children nowadays, staying “connected” to their friends has never been easier with the internet and smart technology. Our kids are in touch with their peers 24/7 and technology allows them to share ideas, photos, stories, videos. But the threats of cyberworld demands the need for guidance, guidelines, and social responsibility. On the other side, the evolution of modern technology has some disadvantages and one of them is cyberbullying.
Cyberbullying, as a modern form of bullying, is a fast-growing problem. Company Ipsos most recent Global Advisory study about cyberbullying was carried out in 28 countries. According to the results of the study, 17% of parents say their own child has experienced some form of cyberbullying.
Bullying in the Digital World
Cyberbullying, taking place over digital devices, has our children fighting on two fronts. They can face bullying both in real life and in the online world. The online form of bullying can occur through direct messaging such as iMessage, apps, social media, forums, or gaming platforms where people can view, participate in, or share content. Cyberbullying entails sending, posting, or sharing negative, harmful, false, or mean content about someone else. It can include sharing personal or private information about someone else causing embarrassment or humiliation. Some cyberbullying can even cross the line into unlawful or criminal behavior.
According to two-thirds (65%) of parents whose child has been cyberbullied report the harassing behavior takes place on social networking sites. It appears that the ‘online jungle’ has become the place to guard our kids from being bullied. Parents’ nightmare, right?
What can we do about it? Can we recognize the signs that our kid is a victim of online bullying? And how can we support them in case their online friends become mean to them?
What are the consequences of cyberbullying on kids?
Cyberbullies can contact the victim through various platforms and can stay in contact directly when the victim is online, but they can also leave harmful comments while the victim is offline. In these situations, kids feel that there is no place where they can escape and be safe. Sometimes bullies are anonymous and the victim has no idea who is posting mean comments on their TikTok video.
You may notice some changes in their eating and sleeping habits. Somebody calls your daughter fat on her video on TikTok or content she posted on Snapchat. Your son is being mistreated for wearing glasses on his YouTube channel. This will hurt their self-esteem. The girl will try to get thinner by skipping meals. The boy will hate his glasses and he will become angry, depressed and may experience sleep disturbances.
Kids who experience cyberbullying may feel depressed and ill. As preteens, kids are still in the process of physical and psychological development. Therefore, if someone harasses them on a daily basis, it can erode their confidence and self-esteem. On the other hand, if they are trying to solve the cyberbullying problem, they are constantly under pressure and this will have an impact on their feelings of happiness and contentment. Kids who experience cyberbullying can undergo some stress-related conditions like headaches, stomachaches or other physical ailments.
You may notice a drop in your kids’ school performance. Some kids will miss school, because they are afraid that the bullying can continue in the offline world, in the schoolyard. They will lose interest in studying and usually, their grades will drop. Unexplained dropping in grades is always a sign that your kid is facing some sort of emotional problem.
Warning signs that your kid is being bullied
When our kids become the victims of cyberbullying incidents, most of them avoid confining in their parents, fearing they will only make things worse. If the cyberbully goes to the same school, kids are aware that parents would try to fix the problem by either calling the parents of the bully, or the school teachers.
However, if the cyberbully is a random person on the Internet they have never met in real life, kids fear that parents will take away the access to that particular game or social media platform. Or even worse, forbid the Internet altogether. Scared that parents will only make things worse, bullying victims will try to hide the problem and keep it to themselves. And this is the perfect scenario for bullies.
How to recognize if a kid is a victim of cyberbullying? Here are some warning signs you should pay attention to:
- your kid is upset or sad before, during or after being on the Internet:
- kid appears distant and avoids family or friends contact;
- refuses to participate in activities previously enjoyed;
- has trouble sleeping at night;
- has a sudden drop in grades;
- shows signs of depression.
And if the cyberbully also goes to school with your kid, you could notice several more:
- simulates flu or headache symptoms so he or she can stay at home;
- has school avoidance syndrome.
If you notice one or more of these signs, react immediately and pragmatically, in order to identify what is upsetting our child.
What should you do if your kid is being bullied in an ‘online schoolyard’?
Realising that your ‘baby’ is the victim of a bully on the internet, it’s common to feel emotional, trying to protect them and undo all the bad experiences they had. The bullying problem is very complex. It can be solved with the parents or teachers helping a victim. But the victim-kid should lead the battle against bullies.
So, how can you bully-proof your child?
The group of boys from your kid’s school is avoiding him and sending him to mean messages on TikTok during classes or after school. So every time your kid hears a beep sound on his phone, he is feeling uncomfortable. Exclusion or peer isolation is a subtle form of bullying that often takes place right beneath the awareness of adults. It’s silent and often invisible, yet also powerfully destructive for those youth who experience it. But what we need to understand is that kids different ages need to be approached differently. More importantly, take prevention measures, teach your kid how to deal with bullies in general, since the same rules apply to cyberbullies and internet trolls.
How can you help your kid who is being isolated and cyberbullied by his peers?
First of all, remind your child that you love and support him or her unconditionally. Now, of course, preteens might be on the rebellious side, so approach them as you would any adult – show them you take them seriously.
Your child in this situation is feeling lonely. So, even though it seems that there is no need to tell him that you love him because he probably already knows that, saying it out loud in this very vulnerable situation is what he needs the most. This will boost his self-esteem and make him feel safe. Somebody they trust has their back.
If the bully is identified, try to talk with the parents and school representatives.
Parents should always be informed if their kid is a bully. But sometimes they will decide to live in denial because it’s hard for them to accept that their kid could do something bad. Before you contact the bully’s parents, you should consider talking first with the school official, such as a counsellor, who can mediate in this situation.
Don’t take away their devices. That’s not the answer.
By taking their devices and access to the internet, sure you are patching up the problem. But what happens if your kid’s cyberbully goes to school with them? The key to any good strategy is preparing your child how to face the bully. After all, the internet is also a great resource for school, extracurricular activities and so on. Taking away the access to the Internet can only put your kid at a disadvantage.
Prepare your child for the online world.
It is very important to talk to your child about good manners before they start to interact with others by using some online platform. You should teach your kid how to recognize bully related actions and how to react. If your girl is posting a Snapchat video showing her new dress and some of her online friends text her that she is bony, that’s a first step of bullying. Your girl can feel uncomfortable wearing that dress again. But you should explain to your kids that there is usually a reason why someone is openly mean.
The best way to respond to a cyberbully attack is not to respond at all. By doing this, your kid is not giving the bully a reaction, which would make them feel powerful.
If your kid gets some mean messages on TikTok DM about his football skills and if your kid is so hurt that he wants to quit training. You can’t really blame a child for wanting to quit when he thinks that he is not excelling at a sport. But if these thoughts are the result of cyberbullying, then you should do something about it. It can be a huge blow to one’s self-esteem to think that that you are not good at something, especially in a team environment when your performance affects everyone else’s.
If your kid is being bullied over direct messages, it is the best solution to block the bully. It would be good not to read those messages and to delete them immediately. After that, you should work on recovering his self-confidence. Talk to your kid that what’s really important, whether we are good or not good at something, is that if we are finding meaning, if we’re finding enjoyment, if we’re finding a way to find out who we are, it’s fine.
Few more tips before you go
You cannot protect them from every bumpy road on their lifelong journey. But you could teach your child how to build self-confidence or the ability to cope with life’s challenges and struggles. As parents, we are responsible for setting a role model for our kids, so they can believe that they are deserving of happiness, love, and success.
You can assure them that it is not their fault if someone teases them for whatever reason they have. It is ok to be a girl and play videogames even though a few of your game buddies reminds you that it is a boy thing. You have nothing to be ashamed of for posting a photo with a t-shirt from Target and not some expensive designer one.
It is up to us to set an example and show them how to treat other people, be a good friend and help others in need. Even though bullying can make them feel cool among their peers, you should explain that this kind of behaviour is wrong, mean, cruel and painful. If they want to be ‘the boss’ they should redirect that need for dominance in a positive way and be a leader. They could initiate throwing a surprise birthday party for a new kid in class and post a video about that on Snapchat.
But, most importantly, you have to show them that you will always be there for them. That you are their safe place. That you love them. If they trust you, you can try to help them solve any problem. Cyberbullying is not an exception.
This article is part of our series on Generation Alpha
We seek to provide answers to your most pressing questions about keeping your kids safe online, introducing them to the digital world, and helping them be their authentic selves online.
Here are two things you need to know about me: I have been an educator for almost 17 years. I am a parent of two kids, both of whom belong to Gen Alpha. As an educator, I was a witness of how the introduction of smartphones and wireless internet can be an unpleasant enemy instuff
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