The brave new world of technology has spawned a monster: the cyberbully. According to the website stopbullying.gov, cyberbullying is bullying that uses electronic methods such as cell phones and computers. It can include hurtful text messages and photos, among others. Most children are aware of cyberbullying. Thanks to the efforts of many school districts in America, most parents are as well.
In just one example of the pain it can cause, a 12-year-old girl in Florida leapt to her death in September 2013 after having been cyberbullied by two girls, one 12 and the other 14.
Despite the conveniences of modern technology, it seems also to have a sinister side. The statistics on cyberbullying are increasingly alarming.
According to www.dosomething.org, a website for teens that addresses social issues, nearly 43 percent of all kids have been bullied online, 1 in 4 has had it happen more than once and only 1 in 10 victims will inform a parent or trusted adult of their abuse. Most disturbing, as reported on this same website, those being cyberbullied are 2 to 9 times more likely to consider committing suicide.
The cyberbully targets his or her victim with emails, tweets and texts, rendering impotent the old adage that “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” If the perpetrator’s aim is accurate, striking countless blows to the most vulnerable girl or boy in any social or classroom setting, the words do hurt; in fact, they have the potential to kill.
How can parents prevent their child from being a victim, a bystander, or even the instigator of cyberbullying? Here are some tips to consider:
- Know your child’s passwords and screen names for all electronic devices.
- Be aware what your child writes on his or her electronic device(s). Parents should carefully monitor the family computer as well.
- Learn the current terminology used by youth today when corresponding with each other. There is a reason why most kids don’t want the adults in their lives visit their Facebook or Twitter pages: privacy.
- Attend school or community functions where cyberbullying is being discussed. Talk with other parents and your child’s teacher and school counselor if you suspect your child is involved in cyberbullying.
- Watch for any sudden or ongoing signs that your child seems anxious, fearful, withdrawn, uninterested in school or being with former friends.
- Demonstrate to your child that you can be trusted with any cyberbullying information he or she shares with you. Explain that you will keep his or her confidence as long as no one’s safety or health is at risk.
- Explain that you don’t intend to punish your child for being truthful about his or her involvement in cyberbullying. Keep the lines of communication as open as possible with careful, non-threatening conversation.
- Carefully monitor your own reaction if your child reports being cyberbullied. Try to stay calm as you work on a plan for what to do next.
- In an age-appropriate manner, explain what happened in Florida, or in a similar cyberbullying situation, and your concern that such a terrible thing must never happen in your family or any other family.
- Remind your child to treat others the way he or she would like to be treated. That means never saying or writing anything about another person that they would not say be willing or comfortable saying to that person’s face.