Action Steps: Cyberbullying

Bullying and violence are very difficult issues to deal with. It can be heartbreaking if you suspect that your child has been bullied but with positive intervention, you can help improve the situation. The following are tips to help you assess whether your child may be bullying others online, or being cyberbullied:

  • Pay attention to how and when your child uses digital or online communications. Is your child secretive or defensive about her online or cell phone activity? Does your child become angry or uncommunicative when you ask questions? Does your child use the internet at odd or unexpected hours? Has the frequency of their internet or cell phone use changed significantly?
  • Take note of your child’s attitude toward friends and family. Has he recently stopped hanging out with certain friends? Is your child less inclined to participate in family activities?
  • Take note of changes in self-esteem. Has your child suddenly become more self-critical? Has she undergone a change in behavior in social situations, like becoming more shy or more aggressive?
  • Be proactive. Even if you are not inclined to believe that your child is being cyberbullied, or cyberbullying someone else, talk to him about appropriate online behavior and the importance of being respectful, empathetic and compassionate in all their interactions, online and in person.

If you suspect your child is being cyberbullied …

  • Become acquainted with the computer and internet. Some parents are at a disadvantage because their teens are more adept at digital communication than they are. Don’t be afraid to learn, because the more you know, the better you will understand what your child is going through.

Learn more about social networking >>
Learn more about online safety >>
Learn more about mobile technology >>

  • Try to understand what’s going on. Young people’s relationships can by very volatile – friendships can change, and alliances can shift dramatically in a fairly short period of time. Find out whether what your child is experiencing is a part of this normal process, or whether it is a pattern of harassment. Either way, be supportive and don’t try to minimize the behavior or your child’s feelings about it.
  • Try not to immediately ban access to instant messaging, e-mail, social networking sites, cell phone, or the Internet. Not only is this unlikely to eliminate the problem, it may further alienate a teen who is accustomed to online communication. Your focus should be on changing the offending behavior, rather than curtailing the media used to communicate it.
  • Encourage your child to keep a diary and write about the bullying incidents, to draw or to do any other creative activity that will help her deal with her emotions. Your child may need time before he or she is prepared to discuss feelings with you, but in the meantime encourage your child to create and use a ‘safe space’ to express those feelings. Remain open to the idea that they may want to talk about the problem, but just not with you: make it clear that it is perfectly appropriate for them to want to talk to another trusted adult about what they’re going through.
  • Replace the negative with positive. Be tenacious about engaging with your teen if he or she withdraws because of bullying. Don’t force your teen to discuss things before he’s ready, but keep him involved in family, community and other group activities while he sorts out his feelings and becomes more comfortable with discussing them.
  • Join forces with other adults. If your child knows the bully and it is someone from her school, contact the teacher or other school authority to enlist their help on how to best and most constructively communicate with the perpetrator’s parents or guardians. Some teens who engage in bullying behaviors are more likely to be struggling in other areas of their lives, or to themselves be victims of violence or intimidation.
  • Empower your teen by keeping him involved and listening to his opinions about how to resolve the problem. Learning to deal with adversity and navigate their way through rough patches are a vital part of their developmental process, and one you can help usher your teen through by being supportive.
  • Don’t hesitate to make difficult decisions including the decision to involve law enforcement or take legal action if the bullying behavior escalates to the level of credible threats of violence.

If your child is prepared to deal with negative situations, he or she will be better able to handle bullying, and may even have a positive influence on the bully. And if you know when to step in, you can help prevent further incidents from occurring, no matter whose child is involved.

If you suspect your child is cyberbullying others…

Most parents and parenting professionals agree that disagreements, arguments, and fallings-out between friends are all normal and part of life. We can’t always protect our kids from pain and frustration, nor will their behavior always meet the standards we set for them. Behavior that crosses the line into bullying, however, is not normal, and could mean that your child is struggling in some areas of her life. Your focus should be on immediately stopping the bullying behavior and determining what may have caused it. In the short term, it is important to let your child know the behavior is unacceptable and, if necessary, seek help from a professional.

Learn more about developmentally appropriate conflict >>

Here are some steps for parents to take if you suspect, or learn that your child is doing the bullying, adapted from material produced by the Cyberbullying Research Center.

  • Confront the behavior right away. This does not mean you should be confrontational. Instead, listen and don’t judge. Talk with your child, and find out what’s going on. Are her or his friends also bullying? Is your child struggling with an issue that makes him feel powerless in other areas of their life? Also be prepared for your child to deny or make light of their behavior, or even to become defensive or angry. Be firm, persistent and calm.
  • Draw clear boundaries. Make your expectations and the consequences for violating them clear. Let your child know that bullying is never acceptable and that the consequences, such as loss of privileges or a face-to-face apology to the victim will be enforced. Make the connection between appropriate online behavior and behavior you require of them in person.
  • Consider whether your child has appropriate models for empathy, respect, and compassion. Try to understand your child’s feelings and talk about what the person they are bullying might be experiencing. Is your child aware of the impact of the behavior? Children and teens who bully others may have themselves been victimized, or may not have had adequate models of empathetic, respectful and compassionate behavior.
  • Practice some critical self-assessment: have you modeled that behavior for your child? Have other people that are a part of their life done so as well?
  • Give positive feedback when you notice healthy choices. Apart from correcting negative behavior, you should also reinforce the positive, including taking note of the times when they practice constructive resolution of difficult situations.
  • Show love and support. Offer and seek support for your child. Behavior change will take time. Give your child love and support, even if you are angry or upset, and seek out the help of others who can partner with you in your efforts to put a stop to the bullying.
  • Enlist the support of other caring adults, including teachers and school authorities and work with them to develop a mutually agreeable plan of action to stop your child’s behavior. If there is a trusted adult who your child also trusts and respects, ask them to step in to help find out what may be at the root of the bullying behavior, and to help you address it.
  • Find out if expert help is necessary. While your child’s bullying may not be very harmful right now, it can escalate quickly and turn into something much more difficult to deal with. If you or others have serious concerns about the nature or intensity of your child’s behavior, seek expert assistance to help you decide how to address it, including whether to get them professional help.

If your child is bullying other kids, it’s important to step in and teach your child proper ways to behave with others, and to figure out what may have caused the behavior in the first place. Regardless of the intensity of your child’s bullying, it should be stopped as soon as possible, not only because it is hurtful to others but because it may indicate that your child is hurting as well.

More Resources for stepping in on bullying behavior >>