SchoolFamily.com guest blogger Dr. Michele Borba, Ph.D. is an expert and author on issues involving children and teens, parenting, bullying, and moral development. Her work aims to help strengthen children’s character and resilience; build strong families; create compassionate and just school cultures; and reduce peer cruelty.
There are red flags parents should watch for that might indicate your child is being cyber bullied. Here’s what to look for—and what to do.
Over the last year, we’ve read about horrific tragedies—bullycides—that appear to have been prompted by relentless peer bullying. One child tragically ending his or her young life due to vicious peer cruelty is one child is too many.
So let’s get savvy about electronic cruelty and the new digital age our kids are experiencing.
Online bullying is especially hurtful. Those horrid, vicious, untrue comments, with a quick click of a button, hit cyberspace. There is no telling how many other peers are hearing or reading those cold-blooded attacks.
Can you imagine being the recipient of such hate? Can you imagine if your child was that recipient?
The truth is those clicks are happening all too often, which is why parents must get educated.
Our first step to turn this around is to understand why cyberbullying is, and then recognize possible warning signs.
These are serious lessons — they might save a child. That’s my hope.
What is cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying is an electronic form of communication that uses cyber-technology (the internet) or digital media (Facebook and other social media sites) to hurt, threaten, embarrass, annoy, blackmail or otherwise target another minor.
Every adult who interacts with kids—parents, educators, librarians, police, pediatricians, coaches, child care givers—must get educated about this lethal new form of bullying so they can find ways to help stop this.
One reason for such a dramatic increase in cyber-abuse is that it’s just so much easier to be cruel when you don’t have to do lash out with vicious insinuations face to face, and can instead do so anonymously!
Where we once thought we just had to protect children from adult predators using the Internet, but now we need to shield kids from one another.
Cyber-bullying is real, and incidents are happening at an increasing rate. Here’s a reality check: National surveys by online safety expert Parry Aftab estimate that 85 percent of 12 and 13-year olds have had experience with cyber bullying. And 53 percent say they have been bullied online.
Many experts confirm that the psychological effects on our children can be as devastating, and may be even more so, than traditional bullying. Research proves that when kids are left unsupervised and without behavior expectations traditional bullying thrives. And we may not be doing as good a job as we think.
Another survey found that while 93 percent of parents feel they have a good idea of what their kids are doing on the Internet, 41 percent of our kids say they don’t share with us what they do or where they go online.
Open up that dialogue and listen!
Red flag warning signs of cyber bullying
As parents, we must do a better job of tuning into our kids. Read the warning signs of cyber bullying (below) and then talk with other parents, teachers, babysitters, counselors, and child workers about them. Print out the warnings and give them to coaches, Scout leaders, Boys and Girls Club leaders, doctors, school officials, and to teens and tweens. Send the list to the local newspaper to print. Ask your child’s school to post the list on their website. Get active and get your community involved. Here’s what to watch out for:
- Your son is hesitant to be online or unexpectedly stops or avoids using the computer
- Your daughter is nervous when an instant message, text, or email appears
- Your son is visibly upset, angry, or depressed after using the computer or his cell phone
- Your daughter hides or clears the computer screen or her cell phone screen when you enter or doesn’t want to talk about online activity
- Your son starts using the computer when you’re not in the room
- Your daughter keeps going back and forth to check the computer screen in shorter spurts
- Your son withdraws from friends; wants to avoid school or peer activities; is uneasy about going outside in general; an/or pulls away from family members
- Your daughter is suddenly sullen, evasive withdrawn, or has a marked change in personality or behavior
- Your son has trouble sleeping, loss of appetite, is excessively moody, cries easily, or seems depressed
- Suspicious phone calls, e-mails, and packages arrives at your home
- Your child has a drop in academic performance or falls behind in schoolwork
A key that you shouldn’t overlook is a sudden change—something that isn’t t your child’s “normal” behavior—that lasts daily, for at least two weeks. But even then, use your instincts! If you are concerned, don’t wait—get your child some help!
If it’s not cyber bullying …
What if these signs I’ve mentioned aren’t happening because your child is being cyber bullied? Regardless they clearly warrant looking into, as something is amiss with your child. It’s up to you to find out what’s going on. Dig deeper. Have a conference with your child’s teacher, coach, counselor, pediatrician, or seek the help of a trained mental health professional. The two saddest words I hear from parents are “If only …” Get help!
Don’t expect that your child will come and tell you about any harassment that might be taking place. Studies show that as our kids get older the likelihood they will come to us and “tell” declines even more. The top reason? Kids say they aren’t telling adults because “The adult didn’t listen or believe me when I did tell.” Sigh.
If you suspect your child’s friend or his peer is cyber-bullied, report it to school authorities and police.
I carry a photo of a young Canadian boy—a precious sixth grader—who ended his life because of bullying. His father gave me his son’s photo and asked me to promise to keep educating parents about the dangers of bullying. I promised that dad I would keep going and I’ve carried that photo for 10 years. It breaks me apart every time I look at it. So remember: Listen! Tune in! Believe!
Dr. Michele Borba, Ph.D., is an expert and author on issues involving children and teens, parenting, bullying, and moral development. Her work aims to help strengthen children’s character and resilience; build strong families; create compassionate and just school cultures; and reduce peer cruelty. Her research-based advice is culled from a career of working with more than 1 million parents and educators worldwide. She is the author of 22 parenting and educational books, and hosts Reality Check, a daily blog at https://www.micheleborba.com/blog/. Dr. Borba lives in Palm Springs, CA with her husband, and has three grown sons. Tips in this blog post were adapted by Dr. Borba from her book “The Big Book of Parenting Solutions: 101 Answers to Your Everyday Challenges and Wildest Worries.”