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Cyber Bullying: Dealing with the Faceless Threat
All it takes is a phone.
Be aware of what your children are seeing on social media.
When my son entered middle school, I began to worry more and more about bullying. I expected some name calling and even some exclusion. Because my son struggles with high functioning autism, he has been a target for bullying as early as elementary school. What I didn’t expect, as he got older was the string of horrible direct messages that he received via Instagram just after the start of eighth grade. Since that time, I have seen countless cases of cyber bullying, both towards my son and to a handful of his friends. I have been shocked at the language used but also at the level of anger that many bullies have towards their victims. It may seem remote, but cyber bullies have more freedom to stalk their victims using their electronic devices, and children are less likely to report this type of abuse. Cyber bullying can range from hurtful words to harassment and stalking. With more and more children carrying cellphones at an earlier age, the door has been wide open for cyber bullying. As a parent there are a few things that you can do to ensure your child’s safety.
Be Aware: From the moment that I put a phone in my son’s hand, I made sure that I knew what was on his phone. His Instagram and Snap Chat accounts were linked with my own. He didn’t always like that I knew what he was doing, but I explained the importance of monitoring his accounts. I let him know that I trusted him but that I didn’t necessarily trust everyone else. When the terrible messages came in, I saw them and acted. Sometimes the cyber bullying isn’t as obvious as hurtful words. There have been cases of classmates impersonating other classmates via Instagram and Facebook and putting them in embarrassing situations. They may post embarrassing pictures or tag a huge number of classmates under this fake account. It can get messy fast. The best thing to do when allowing your child to be active on these sites is to limit their contacts and posting venue. Be aware of who they are following and who is following them, and block any inappropriate behavior. I have also asked my son’s closest friend to watch his sites and to let me know if there is anything disturbing on them. Sometimes it’s easier to tell a friend about cyber bullying than an adult.
Be Nonreactive: First let me say that it is important to report any cyber bullying by either blocking the bully or reporting the activity to the site manager. You can also notify the school and let them be aware of the activity. Take screen shots to document it as well. But the best thing that I taught my son was to be nonreactive. It can be easier to respond to a cyber bully especially since there is no face-to-face requirement and all it takes is a few minutes to type an angry response. But responding in that way only fuels the fire. Even in the hurt that your child might feel, it’s important to stop and think about what would make another child say and do such hurtful things. Reinforce the positive that you see in your child and let them know how proud you are that they can walk away from such hurtful behavior.
Be a Friend: Even if your child is not the victim of cyber bullying, teach them how to stand by their friends if they become victims. Support bullied friends on social media by letting them know that you do not accept this kind of behavior. Help them to emphasize the positive things that they see in their friend and let them know that what is happening is not their fault. They can also report inappropriate behavior to the site manager or to a grown up. If things get out of control, they can help their friend document it through screen shots.
There are a few things that you can do to help stop cyber bullying before it has a chance to stop. Ask your child to be cautious about the information they share through these sites. Limit personal information. Sharing information can be used against them, even by strangers. Also, tell them not to give other people access to their phones or accounts.
Facts you should know.
Cyber Bullying Facts
Half of all teens have been cyber bullied.
1:10 report cyber bullying incidents.
1:5 teens have sent sexually explicit photos of themselves via phone.
- Prevent Cyberbullying | StopBullying.gov
Learn about safe ways for parents and kids to use technology.