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Cyberbullying: What You Need to Know to Keep Kids Safe Online and Off
For parents who experienced bullying as getting cornered in the hallway or a black eye on the playground, it may be hard to understand how online teasing amounts to abuse. But cyberbullying is so much more than unkind words said online. Cyberbullying can be:
- Sending hurtful or threatening texts, messages, or emails.
- Sharing embarrassing photographs or videos.
- Creating websites or social media pages to make fun of someone.
- “Hacking” into someone’s online accounts or creating fake accounts to pose as them.
- Revealing personal information to others, whether true or rumors.
- Excluding someone from online groups and conversations.
- Sharing private sexual photographs, or sexts.
Even when bullying is limited to words online, it can still cause lasting harm. Microaggressions are casual, subtle, but offensive comments that insult a marginalized person. Microaggressions may be intentional or unintentional, but the effect is the same. Here are three forms of speech that leave your teen feeling less able, less worthy, and less welcome than you know she is:
- Microassaults: A microassault is what you might consider typical bullying or discriminatory behavior. It’s a microassault when someone insults, avoids, expresses hate toward, or otherwise discriminates against a victim.
- Microinsults: While similar to microassaults, microinsults are more understated. They consist of demeaning comments to a victim. Microinsults are subtle, retaining plausible deniability for the perpetrator while intentionally harming the victim.
- Microinvalidation: Microinvalidations are actions or speech that deny the thoughts, feelings, and experiences of a victim. They can leave a victim feeling like their very personhood has been undermined.
Unlike schoolyard bullying that can be witnessed by teachers, cyberbullying is harder to detect. Not only is it often limited to forums that parents aren’t privy to, like social media private messages and smartphone apps like SnapChat, but it’s also often anonymous. However, there are still signs that a teen is having a tough time online:
- Appearing upset during and after using a smartphone or computer.
- Dramatic changes in device use habits.
- Behaving secretively around phones and computers.
- Withdrawal from social life.
- Poor self-esteem.
- Declining school performance.
If left unchecked, cyberbullying can leave your child in a vulnerable state. She may end up isolated from people she once called friends, and start looking for friendship in unsavory places. Without a strong support system and healthy self-esteem, teens are more likely to turn to risky behavior like sex, drugs, and drinking to feel like they fit in.
That’s why it’s so important for parents to intervene at the first signs of cyberbullying. However, for parents unfamiliar with all the sites and apps their teens frequent, it’s hard to know exactly what to do. Here are the first steps you need to take:
- Screenshot or print evidence of the offending messages, texts, emails, or pages before deleting. This serves as evidence if intervention from school officials or authorities is needed. Otherwise, save it in case the situation escalates.
- Delete abusive content so your teen doesn’t continue to revisit it.
- Block and report bullies on all sites and apps that allow it. Most texting apps and social networking sites make it easy to block someone who is harassing you. If you can’t block, remove your teen’s account.
- Make clear that retaliation isn’t the answer. Bullies often enjoy getting a response out of their victims, as it’s a sign their torment is working. Plus, responding in kind could make your teen a bully too.
- Talk about the importance of keeping private information private. When she does things outside her comfort zone, like sharing passwords or sexual photos, she’s vulnerable to bullying.
Depending on the severity of the bullying, you may also choose to take the issue to school administrators or even law enforcement. If it involves threats, blackmail, or sexual content, turning to authority figures is usually the right call.
As a parent, you want nothing more than to keep your child safe and happy. But with teens growing up in the digital world, it’s harder than ever to keep tabs on what’s happening in their lives. Beyond talking to teens about being good digital citizens, keep the conversation open about what’s happening in their social lives, both in person and online.
Guest Post by Noah Smith: Noah conquered his anxiety battles as a child. Today, he conquers places in his travel adventures. He tries to take one big trip each year. Noah writes for WellnessVoyager and enjoys offering his travel expertise to readers.