If you’re the parent of a teen today, there’s a pretty good chance that cyberbullying wasn’t a big problem when you went to school. You may remember being bullied or seeing bullying occur at school, but prior to the social media age, kids who were being bullied could at least escape the onslaught at home.
Today’s bullies can follow their victims digitally, which means that almost nowhere is safe. And cyberbullying tends to be a sustained attack, rather than isolated incidents. The pressure can drive some teens to the breaking point. As a parent, it’s very important to know whether you child is being cyberbullied and what to do about it if they are.
Know the Signs
If your teen is visibly distressed when texting, this may be a sign of bullying.
You can’t help your child if you don’t know that they’re being bullied, and unfortunately, many teens won’t tell you. They may be ashamed to admit it, or they may fear that you’ll overreact or underreact. They may even want to avoid getting anyone in trouble. Whatever the reasons, you can’t assume your child will tell you, so it’s important that you know what to look for.
Watch for signs that your teen is upset or frustrated during or after using their smartphone or computer. Depression, withdrawal from friends, family, and activities, sleep disturbances, and falling grades are all potential signs of bullying. Using monitoring software to track your teen’s online activities can give you valuable insight into whether or not they’re being bullied, but you also need to learn the internet lingo that teens are using — otherwise you may miss important information because you don’t understand what’s being said.
Give Your Teen Input
There’s no one right way to handle cyberbullying, but your teen should always know you have their back.
When teens worry that telling their parents about the cyberbullying will make it worse, the truth is that they are sometimes right. If you react by restricting their internet privileges, they’ll feel that they’re being punished on top of being bullied (and it’s not likely to stop the bullying). Being too quick to bring school authorities or other parents into it can also backfire on your teen.
Your first job is to support your teen. If they prefer to handle the situation by themselves, that may be the best course of action — to a point. If the behavior crosses into dangerous or criminal territory, or if you’re afraid your teen is at risk of harming themselves or acting out because of the bullying, you have to step in whether they like it or not. If you go the hands-off route, it’s important to continue monitoring the situation so that you can intervene if necessary.
On the other hand, if your teen prefers that you intervene in some way, you should do so — telling them that they need a thicker skin or that “sticks and stones may break your bones, but words will never hurt you” is unhelpful. Bullying can have serious effects on a teen’s self-esteem and sense of safety that can follow them for life.
When to Act
There are times when you must step in whether your teen wants you to or not. If bullies are making physical threats, revealing sensitive pictures or contact information for your teen online, or crossing the legal line into stalking and harassment, you need to report the situation to local law enforcement immediately. As soon as you become aware of the bullying, you should begin saving screenshots or printing out hard copies of the bullying messages so that you have proof of the situation.
Your teen may need counseling to help them handle their feelings about the bullying and develop strategies to defuse bullying situations and defend themselves. Also alert your child’s school guidance counselor to the situation — at a minimum, they can keep an eye on your teen and be alert for signs of in-school bullying. Contact your internet service provider, as well. They may be able to help you track down anonymous bullies and block online harassers.
To learn more about how monitoring software can help you protect your child from cyberbullies, contact us to get our free trial.