How to recognize, prevent, and respond to cyberbullying (Part 1)

Originally posted on Reputation Defender, by Jennifer Bridges

One of the first cases of cyberbullying (online harassment) was that of Ryan Halligan, a 13-year-old autistic boy from New Jersey, who hung himself in 2003 after receiving an onslaught of cruel and humiliating online messages from his classmates. Sadly, stories like his—once unimaginable—are now increasingly common.

According to a Pew Research Center study, nearly 60% of American teens have experienced cyberbullying. Further, a 2016 study by the Cyberbullying Research Center found that more than 1 in 10 middle school and high school students reported bullying someone else online.

And it doesn’t just happen to kids; a 2017 Pew Research Center study revealed that 41% of adults report being victims of cyberbullying.

Given these statistics, it’s very possible that cyberbullying will eventually touch your child’s life in some way. Therefore, it’s essential that you learn:

  • How to recognize it
  • What you can do to prevent it
  • The best ways to respond to it

What is cyberbullying?

Cyberbullying is the act of repeated posting, sending, or otherwise intentionally spreading untrue or mean content online with the goal of harming or humiliating another person. Sometimes, this behavior can be criminal.

Individuals are at risk for cyberbullying anywhere people gather online to share information. Some of the most common platforms include:

  • In-app messaging
  • Text messages
  • Social media posts
  • Forum discussions
  • Gaming messaging/chats
  • Email

Like conventional bullying, cyberbullying typically involves an aggressor preying on another individual as a way to feel better about his or her own insecurities. However, the anonymity of the Internet makes it much easier for people to attack others without fearing any consequences.

Cyberbullying has certain qualities that make it particularly brutal for its targets:

  • It’s continuous:Unlike offline bullying, it doesn’t stop at the end of the school day, when students can retreat to the safety of their homes. Because most children have 24/7 access to a phone, tablet, or computer, there is often no relief from online harassment.
  • It’s forever:Unless you take steps to report and remove something, anything anyone says about you will exist forever on the Internet—and will come up in search results for your name. This can affect your chances of getting into college, obtaining employment, and even getting a date.
  • It’s easy to overlook:Unlike conventional bullying, cyberbullying is more difficult to identify and prevent. By the time many parents realize their child is being bullied, the psychological trauma the child has sustained can be overwhelming.

What are the effects of cyberbullying?

People who experience cyberbullying undergo emotional, psychological, and physical stress. This affects many aspects of their lives, especially their:

  • Education:Many targets see their grades slipping because they don’t want to go to school and have trouble concentrating when they do go.
  • Mental health:People experiencing cyberbullying often feel depressed, anxious, and frustrated. Sometimes, the pain caused by cyberbullying becomes so severe that it leads to suicide. One case that brought national attention to the issue is that of 13-year-old Megan Meier, who was targeted by an adult cyberbully pretending to be a teenage boy.

How to tell if your child is cyberbullying or being cyberbullied

It can be hard for parents of middle school and high school children to know what’s going on in their child’s life. However, there are some things to look for that might indicate cyberbullying.

If your child is displaying these symptoms, then he or she might be a target of cyberbullying:

  • Suddenly stops using his/her device
  • Appears uneasy when on the device
  • Doesn’t want to leave the house or go to school
  • Avoids talking about his/her online activities
  • Wants to be with family members more than his/her peers

Your child might be harassing others online if he or she does the following:

  • Takes pains to hide his/her screen from you
  • Appears to have multiple accounts or be using someone else’s account
  • Is acting out at school
  • Starts associating with a “bad” group of friends
  • Is overly concerned with his/her social status or popularity

Of course, these behaviors could also point to a number of other concerns, such as depression and social anxiety, which are common among adolescents. For a full list of signs that might indicate that your child is being cyberbullied or is a cyberbullier, see this handout from the Cyberbullying Research Center (PDF).

This article was originally published on Reputation Defender.