Is your child being cyberbullied?
Warning signs of cyberbullying
No parent wants to learn that their child has become a victim of cyberbullying. But worse is not learning about it until long after it's begun.
By keeping lines of communication open with our children, and being alert to changes in their behaviour, parents may be able to offer help sooner.
Here are some of the common signs that your child may be experiencing cyberbullying:
- Your child begins to avoid using their mobile device or computer. Or, conversely, they begin to spend much more time texting, gaming or using social networking sites.
- They appear upset, withdrawn or angry after receiving emails, instant messages or text messages.
- Your child becomes more secretive about their online activities and avoids conversations that have to do with their computer or mobile device.
- Your child is reluctant to leave the house; they begin avoiding social situations they used to enjoy or withdraw from family and friends.
- They begin falling behind in school work or their grades go down.
- They become reluctant to go to school, or completely refuse.
- Your child appears sad, frustrated, impatient or angry much more than usual.
- They are having trouble sleeping, or show less interest in eating.
There also may be some behaviours specific to their online use:
- Your child suddenly deletes their social networking profiles and accounts.
- A lot of new texts, email addresses or phone numbers begin appearing on your child's phone, laptop or other device.
- They block one or more numbers or email addresses from their online accounts or email.
Steps to follow if your child is being cyberbullied
To help your child, it's essential to treat cyberbullying seriously without over-reacting. For your child to feel comfortable opening up to you about a very hurtful and shameful event, they need to know you won't make it worse by getting angry or freaking out.
Take a systematic and calm approach.
Step #1: Talk with your child about cyberbullying
- If you suspect your child is being bullied, but they haven't come to you, find a way to bring it up when the two of you have time together. You can bring up a story or article you read about cyberbullying or about how teens are using technology today. Ask them open-ended questions like “What kinds of things have you seen about cyberbullying?” or “Have you ever been worried about it?” Keep the lines of communication open.
- If your child has told you they've been cyberbullied, listen without over-reacting. Be your child's advocate without making the situation worse for them. Learn about the extent of the bullying. Sometimes kids say mean things to each other and it may be premature to jump into action. But it's just as important to not minimize a situation that has become serious. Explain that cyberbullying is unacceptable.
- Reassure your child that they're not alone, that they're going to be okay, and you'll get through this together.
- Avoid blaming your child for being bullied or judging how they've handled things. Your goal is to help them feel safe, and build up their self-confidence.
- Tell your child not to respond to or forward any of the cyberbullying messages.
- Have your child block the person or people doing the cyberbullying from all their accounts: their email account, social networking sites, and contacts.
- If necessary, have your child change their email address and/or cellphone number.
- Start a file of the evidence. Have your child give you a record of all the offending emails, text messages, social networking posts, phone messages, photos, and instant messaging history. Record the dates and times of all episodes and save and print screen shots for reporting.
- If you get the impression that your child's mental health is suffering – that they've become depressed, aren't eating or sleeping, or are having thoughts of self-harm – get support for your child from a mental health professional.
Step #2: Report the cyberbullying to digital providers
Report the abuse to your Internet Service Provider, mobile service provider and social networking sites:
- Your Internet Service Provider is the company you've chosen to connect you to the Internet from your home. Most have 'acceptable use' policies in place and encourage reports of cyberbullying. If the bully has an account with the same firm, and you can provide evidence of the bullying, the company may issue a warning or even a suspension/termination of the bully's account if warnings are ignored.
- If your child is getting bullying texts or messages on their mobile device – and your child's mobile service provider is different from your Internet Service Provider – report it to the service provider. They, too, will likely have policies in place and encourage reports of cyberbullying.
- Most social networking sites like Facebook have established policies on cyberbullying and reporting abusive content. Last year, Facebook introduced a Cyberbullying Prevention Hub where users can report that they are being bullied (or that a friend is being bullied). Learn the reporting procedures on all the sites your child is active on, and report it through the appropriate channels.
- The Canadian Centre for Child Protection has developed helpful tips and templates to assist you or your child/teenager in removing photos from the Internet.
Step #3: Report the cyberbullying to your child's school
- Even though cyberbullying takes place online, it can disrupt the school environment (children take their mobile devices everywhere with them) and the bullying can be happening face-to-face as well.
- Learn who to report cyberbullying to at the school. If you know your child's teacher, you may want to approach them first. Or you may want to go to the vice-principal or principal of the school.
- Learn what steps the school takes when cyberbullying is reported. Keep in mind that this isn't a problem the school is responsible for on its own. Many school boards have a bullying policy too.
Step #4: Report the cyberbullying to law enforcement
Do not hesitate to contact your local police authorities should the bullying involve any of these behaviours:
- Making any threats of physical harm or violence.
- Sending and sharing sexually explicit or intimate photos of someone under the age of 18.
- Stalking a victim: where a bully is persistently following or communicating with your child in a harassing way that has them fearing for their safety.
- Hacking into someone else's computer or creating a false social networking page in another persons' name to facilitate the bullying or harassment.
Learn the potential legal consequences of cyberbullying and a full list of the kinds of offences that may be associated with cyberbullying.
Step #5: Get outside help to deal with cyberbullying
If your child is showing signs of continued depression, isolation, anxiety, loss of interest in eating or sleeping, or showing any signs of self-harm or thoughts of self-harm, do not hesitate to seek support from a mental health professional.
Things not to do if your child is cyberbullied
When you're in the midst of strong emotions, it can be difficult to know just how to treat such a distressing situation.
Keep in mind that your child needs to feel safe opening up to you about a very painful experience. By avoiding some of the things below, you'll become a bigger help to your child.
- Do not tell your child to “just ignore it”. While it's important to help them avoid future attacks by not responding to or blocking the bullying, you want to give your child the impression that together you're going to do something about this.
- Do not blame your child for being cyberbullied. Even if something in their behaviour may have triggered the bullying, no child deserves to be bullied, no matter what they've done.
- Do not criticize them for not coming to you earlier, or for how they've handled things. There likely were many reasons they let things go this long before approaching you. Let them know you understand how difficult it's been to share this, and you're glad they have now.
- Do not tell your child to retaliate. If your child begins responding, it may escalate the situation and spur the child that is cyberbullying on. It also gives the message to your child that hurtful behaviour is okay.
- Do not contact the parent of the child that is cyberbullying (unless they are already a well-known neighbour or friend). This often makes things worse and can deteriorate into argument or shouting matches. Your school's teachers or administrators can mediate between parents and help everyone come to a course of action that will help all the children involved. (Those who are bullying often need support as well.)
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