Late last week, Melania Trump vowed to end cyber bullying as her cause if her husband is elected president. It seems more than mildly absurd being that her husband is a true cyber bully in all sense of the word but it made me wonder if as parents we know the answer to the question “What is cyber bullying?”.
In North American culture, as adults we tolerate and sometime even reward bullying behavior. There are workplaces with bully managers. We delight in bullies in movies and television. It seems that as a society we expect people to just put up with it (or fight back).
When most parents were in school, a typical bullying event happened at a moment in time or in a certain location and then is over (though another event likely occurred). The bullying occurred in one place and you had a safe zone when you got home. This bullying was often witnessed and everyone present knew both parties.
Cyber bullying takes things to the next level. It uses the internet and other electronic forms to post mean or embarrassing photos, messages, emails, and to make threats. A lot of the time the bully is unknown and there is no one to fight back against because it never happens in face to face encounter.
Unlike other forms of bullying, the threats and intimidation can happen 24 hours a day. It can feel relentless and humiliating all the time. It reaches our kids everywhere (at the dinner table, or during family game time). There is no safe zone.
Cyber bullying can spread quickly, and endlessly by multiple attackers (some of them thinking it was just in good fun.) It can last for indefinite periods of time and quite often no one has to answer for their actions.
What is Cyber Bullying?
- Spreading gossip, secrets, or rumours about another person that will damage that other person’s reputation
- Breaking into someone’s email account and sending hurtful messages to others under their identity
- Creating polling websites to rate others on their physical attributes in a negative manner
- Taking embarrassing photos of someone and sending it to others (snapchat, email, IM, etc.)
- Using another person’s password to change their profile picture to something offensive
- Sending mean and/or threatening emails, texts, etc.
- Creating blogs, posts, or websites that have content ridiculing others
- Posting false or hurtful messages to or about others in social media, group chats, and forums
The Impact of Cyber Bullying
The impact of cyber bullying is multifaceted. Many victims of this endless type of cyberbullying, have had their self-esteem devastated. Others are driven to self-mutilation (cutting), substance abuse, and dropping out of school or society. Cyber bullying has even been implicated in suicides and now the term “bullycide’ exists in our culture. Bullycide is not a victimless crime!
What Parents Can Do About Cyber Bullying
If your child is being cyberbullied they may exhibit the signs of traditional bullying. Some signs include:
- Being afraid to go to school
- Appearing anxious or fearful
- Making negative comments about him/herself
- Appearing unhappy or irritable
- Trouble Sleeping or nightmares
- Threats to hurt themselves or others
They may also avoid discussions about online activities and seem especially distant or irritable after using the computer or their cell phone. You may even notice a distinct change in how often they use their devices.
Our kids (both tweens & teens) are often afraid to talk with their parents about any cyber bullying experiences. This stems from a fear that their online activities will be restricted for something they didn’t do wrongly. Before things go wrong, talk with your kids about cyber bullying. Reassure them that you will not take away their devices if they encounter anything online that makes them uncomfortable, or if they receive or view content that is upsetting or harassing in nature. Make certain they understand that it is very important to talk with an adult (and give them some options if they feel uncomfortable speaking with you – perhaps a favourite aunt, a trusted teacher, or mentor.)
When Your Kid is a Cyberbully
There are many reasons that kids cyber bully. Quite often (but not always) kids are cyberbullying, it stems from being bullied themselves. Bullying is always about power over someone else.
Setting family guidelines or rules is the best way to curb bullying behavior. Here are a few examples:
- Always keep computers in high traffic common areas of your home (kitchen). This way you can monitor online activities without looking like you are spying
- Keep devices out of bedrooms by creating a family charging station
- Set up all social media, email, blogs, and other accounts with your children. This keeps you aware of the type of information they are posting. It is also a good habit to have a list of your tween or teens IM and email contacts so that you can verify them if necessary.
- If you learn about their cyber bullying behavior, encourage your child to apologize to the person they have hurt. Make certain they understand the consequences of their actions (especially if it doesn’t stop) which could include the loss of their device or online privileges, possible legal consequences, and the damage to their reputation (who wants to hire a bully – and yes, employers are looking but that is another post).
Lastly, there have been lots of stories in the media about cyber bullying. Use these as a starting point for a conversation with your tween or teen about what is considered acceptable both on and offline. This can help your kids understand that they can come to you for help because you understand the problem. For the best results, try not to preach, instead bring this up in normal dinner conversation (like “Hey, I read this story in the news today . . . If that was you, what would you have done?”)
Have you dealt with cyber bullying in your family? Every family is different so things that work for one family may not for another. You know your kids best. I’d love to know what worked for your family and what didn’t.