Watch for signs of cyberbullying to help kids navigate the situation, whether they’re a victim, a witness, or perhaps unknowingly, the bully.
As kids become increasingly connected, there’s a dangerous underbelly to watch out for: cyberbullying. In the first half of 2020, an estimated 5 million kids ages 10 to 18 were cyberbullied in the United States. The risk increases as kids approach their teen years and the impact can be a blow to their self-esteem, or worse. As a parent, knowing the signs can help defuse the situation and help kids face the problem, and bully, head on.
What is cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying is defined as “any bullying that takes place over a digital device.” This includes using text messages, apps, social media, or video games to send, post, or share negative, harmful, false, or mean content about someone else. The most common place it occurs is on the devices and forums on which your kids spend a lot of time, and the Wall Street Journal reported a “substantial rise” in toxic words and phrases in text-based conversations on Discord, a chat platform popular with kids.
Where does cyberbullying occur?
Since digital devices allow kids to be tuned in 24 hours a day, cyberbullying can become more common if left unmonitored. Incidents frequently occur on popular apps like YouTube, Instagram, TikTok, and Snapchat, video game communities, as well as newer apps such as YOLO and Houseparty. Apps like YOLO, which lets users anonymously comment on posts, allow for a lot of freedom and opportunity for cyberbullies to act. The reasons for being bullied reported most often by students include physical appearance, race/ethnicity, gender, disability, religion, and sexual orientation.
What roles do kids play in cyberbullying?
It’s important to know when kids are being cyberbullied, but it’s also important to identify when they are being the bully. Sometimes kids may even engage in cyberbullying behavior without knowing it. They may join in, reinforce it by laughing or playing along, or maybe remain outside of it by not engaging or reporting the behavior. Granted, some will come to the defense of the kid being bullied, and hopefully report the behavior to a parent or guardian—unfortunately, this doesn’t happen often.
One way parents can help is to be active and involved with what their kids are doing, online and off, and make sure to review and approve apps kids are using on their smartphones, tablets, or computers.
What are the signs of cyberbullying?
Kids generally don’t want to come forward, often because they feel ashamed or fear they’ll lose their device privileges, so it’s important to keep an eye out for telltale signs. Although they might vary, signs can include:
- being emotionally upset during or after using online devices
- being secretive or protective of their online life
- withdrawing from family members, friends, and activities
- slipping grades and "acting out" in anger at home
- changing moods, behaviors, or eating and sleeping patterns
- wanting to stop using computers or mobile devices
- being nervous or jumpy when getting an instant message, text, or email
- avoiding discussions about computer or mobile phone activities
Ultimately, the best way to prevent cyberbullying is to be involved, talk openly and honestly with kids, and have tools in your parenting toolkit to help stop cyberbullying and keep your kids safe online. For more information, or to help prepare kids for when they are being bullied or witness it, check out the U.S. Government’s official Stop Bullying website. October is National Bullying Prevention Awareness Month. Follow along #bullyingpreventionmonth.