Bullying is everywhere. While it used to be something that was done physically, it has now moved to the online world as well. It is not entirely clear why some children bully and why some children become victims. It is also not clear, therefore, how it could possibly be stopped. A particular worry for parents is that they will often not be aware of their children getting bullied, particularly if it is cyber bullying. A recent study has shown that only 5% of young people who are being cyber bullied will confide in their parents or carers.
“Only one out of every six parents of adolescents and teens are even aware of the scope and intensity involved with cyber bullying.”
This means that, as a parent, you have to be extra vigilant. It is your responsibility to find out whether your child is being bullied. It will also be your responsibility to take the necessary actions.
Understanding the Different Forms of Bullying
Bullying seems to have evolved beyond just name calling.
“Keep in mind that cyberbullying may be happening on top of other victimization. Teens may be experiencing physical bullying, dating violence, harassment, stalking, or other forms of victimization.”
Cyber bullying can happen through instant messaging, email, web site posts, chat room exchanges, text messages, and so on. It involves aggression, an imbalance of power and a repeated negative action. But there are a few things that set it apart from traditional bullying. The first difference is that it allows for anonymity. Sometimes, even the victim isn’t able to identify the bully. Secondly, there is a difference in accessibility. No longer are children victimized as they walk home from school or while on the bus. Suddenly, they can be victimized anywhere and at any time of the day. Then, there is the fact that victims often worry about punitive fears, and this worry is what stops them from speaking out.
“Victims of cyber bullying often do not report it because of: (1) fear of retribution from their tormentors, and (2) fear that their computer or phone privileges will be taken away. Often, adults’ responses to cyber bullying are to remove the technology from a victim – which in their eyes can be seen as punishment.”
Another difference is seen in the fact that it is all too easy to have thousands of bystanders in a cyber bullying attack. A nasty comment or remark can easily go ‘viral’, at which point almost anyone in the world can see it. Finally, cyber bullying allows for disinhibition. This is also due to the inherent anonymity. Oftentimes, people dare say things to each other online that they would never dare say to someone’s face.
Warning Signs of Cyber Bullying
So how do you know that your children could be victims of cyber bullying? One thing to look for is that they seem upset after they have been using their computer or have used their phone. You may also notice that they have become more withdrawn and that they suddenly lose interest in previously enjoyed activities. They may also suddenly refuse to go to school or to social activities, or they may fake illnesses in order to get out of these obligations. You may also notice signs of sadness and depression. Nevertheless, it should be noted that none of these signs automatically mean that your child is being cyber bullied. This is why you have to approach the situation gently.
“By approaching the discussion with a gentle, supportive tone, asking questions and expressing your concern, you should be able to discover what is causing changes in your child’s/teen’s behavior.”
You must also be aware of the fact that children do not want to ask for help when they are being cyber bullied.
“Bullying can make a child feel helpless. Kids may want to handle it on their own to feel in control again. They may fear being seen as weak or a tattletale.”
They are also often worried that coming forward will only make matters worse. Additionally, kids often feel humiliated by the experience and they will worry that the words that are being said will be seen as true. They fear that they will be rejected by the people they care about the most, so they effectively protect themselves by keeping the situation hidden.
What Can You Do?
If you discover that your child is indeed the victim of cyber bullying, you will need to come up with ways to address this. As stated previously, children often don’t come forward because they worry that their computer and technology privileges will be taken away from them, effectively punishing them even more. This is, therefore, not a good solution. Some parents do put measures in place to limit accessibility, but you must weigh up the pros and cons of doing so, as your child should not be punished for being bullied.
“Although it’s hurtful, many kids who are bullied can’t resist the temptation to check websites or phones to see if there are new messages. Keep the computer in a public place in the house (no laptops in children’s bedrooms, for example) and put limits on the use of cellphones and games.”
What is perhaps more important is that you are aware of the online world in which your child lives. Ask to become a friend or follower of your child on their social media profiles. However, you should only use this to monitor what is happening online. Your child will probably not want you to comment on things they say and do. It is also recommended to be aware of your child’s logins and passwords so you can check what is going on and what is being said through private messages.
You also need to show children that you are on their side. They should be made to realize that what is happening is not their fault and that you will support them at all times. Hence, you should also keep copies of all the messages and comments that have been made. If you ever need evidence, for instance, if your child does want to come forward, then you will have those documents available. Deciding whether or not to publicly address the situation, however, should be a decision that your child makes, not you. Do also inform a trusted figure within the school about what has been happening, particularly if you believe the bully to be someone in the school. However, make sure that there is clarity about what course of action you want the school to take. They should be happy to simply monitor the situation, for example.