Kids and Cyberbullying
Teens use their phones for many of the same reasons adults do – to keep in touch with their friends, for entertainment, and to access social media. But that connectivity can come at a price. Did you know that 72% of teens “sometimes” or “often” check for messages or notifications on their phone as soon as they wake up? As many as 95% of teens now have access to a smart phone – more than half own one by the age of 11.
What is cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying is when someone uses digital communication tools like the internet or a cell phone to harass, threaten, embarrass, or otherwise hassle someone, usually more than once. Cyberbullying can contribute to problems in school, low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts and attempts.
Kids can play different roles in cyberbullying. They can be the cyberbully – the person who is doing the bullying, the target – the person who’s being bullied, a bystander – someone who is aware but doesn’t do anything about it, or an upstander – someone who tries to make the bullying stop. According to a recent Pew Research report, 59% of teens have experienced one or more of these types of cyberbullying:
- Offensive name-calling. Name-calling using racist, sexist, vulgar, intimidating, homophobic or other harassing language. This type of bullying may be related to someone’s religion, gender, ethnicity, appearance, or socio-economic status.
- Spreading false rumors. Spreading false rumors online is the high-tech version of what teens have done for a long time. Unfortunately, when rumors are spread online they spread fast, have a much wider audience, and are much harder to get rid of.
- Receiving/sending explicit pictures. In the Pew study, 25% of teens said they had been sent explicit images they didn’t ask for. 7% said that someone had shared explicit pictures of them without their consent.
- Stalking. Constant asking of where they are, what they’re doing, who they’re with, by someone other than an parent.
- Physical threats. Threats about what the bully might do to the target, or that the target should hurt or kill themselves.
Where does cyberbullying happen?
Cyberbullying among teens can occur in any electronic venue where teens hang out. Common places include:
- Social media sites such as Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, and Twitter
- Voice or text chat rooms on gaming sites like Call of Duty or Fortnite
- Community sites like YouTube, Discord, and Twitch
- Direct communications like texting or instant messaging
What can parents do?
Prevention is often better than reaction. Talk to your kids before they open a social media account about privacy, keeping safe online, and respecting others. Monitor what they do online. Keep the lines of communication open, so they know they can come to you if there’s a problem. When a child is cyberbullied, talk with them before you take any actions like contacting other parents, the school, or law enforcement. You can also help them in the following ways:
- Reassure. Remind your child that you love and support them.
- Log off. Encourage them to step away from the computer. Remind them that bullies often are trying to get a reaction from them and responding or retaliating can make it worse.
- Block. Block the person doing the bullying on all social media accounts. Take them off any friends lists or delete messages without reading them.
- Save and print. Consider keeping a record of the messages so there is evidence if the bullying continues.
- Report. Look into methods of reporting harassing behavior to the social media site, your phone company, the school, or law enforcement (if the bullying includes threats).
Writer Cindy Maxim
Sources: NPR, Pewresearch, CommonSenseMedia
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