Do you know what happens once every 7 minutes on school playgrounds across the nation?
We can rule out a pickup game of dodgeball or basketball and it doesn’t involve tetherballs or teeter totters. No, the answer may come as a shock to everyone: it’s bullying. October has been designated as National Bullying Prevention Month and presenting the perfect opportunity to address the issue that impacts so many of our children.
The Bullying Evolution: Meet The Cyberbully
Even though we live in the modern era, bullying is still prevalent as it was when we were children. In fact, the cruel and menacing tactics favored by bullies has evolved right along with the times and taken on the devastating form of cyberbullying. Cyberbullying is similar to traditional bullying, but it uses social media and technology to inflict pain or control others.
Digital aggression tends to encourage a group mentality as other people comment, like, or share the embarrassing or damaging posts. Children single out a victim who they deem inferior. Often, there is no rhyme or reason to their selection process and anyone can become a victim. As the victim watches their peers and classmates agree with the bully it can cause feelings of isolation and depression.
While many adults believe it’s simple to delete a cruel message, cyberbullying isn’t easily contained with the tap of a key. It is estimated that 70 percent of our children will take measures to hide their digital presence. Keeping adults in the dark about their online behaviors is the perfect breeding ground for negativity and bullying.
Recognizing Victims Of Cyberbullying
To compound this secrecy, new data shows that cyberbullying affects 87 percent of our sons and daughters. This data is a far cry from the previous numbers that showed around 25 percent of our kids were impacted by online bullying. In fact, this new study claims that cyberbullying has tripled within the last few months!
It is important for parents and adults to understand the symptoms a child is involved in cyberbullying. Here are a few common signs to be on the lookout for:
- Anxiety or avoidance of technology
- Overprotective or secretive of their devices
- A noticeable change in social activities or peer groups
- A desire to avoid school and group functions
- Trouble falling or staying asleep
- Dimming their screens on devices or sudden closing of windows if you walk in the room
- Dropping grades or performance in the classroom
- Unexplained stomach or body ailments
- Mood swings that mimic depression or fear
- Unexplained weight gain or loss
Reporting And Preventing Cyberbullying
If you suspect your child is a victim, it is essential to step in immediately. It’s easy to say “kids will be kids”, but bullying has been linked to serious long term consequences like depression, anxiety, and suicidal tendencies. On a positive note, most acts of bullying stop within ten seconds if an adult steps in.
That makes it essential that parents are supportive, able to identify bullying situations, and know methods to protect kids from cyberbullying.
The following 12 suggestions can help our sons and daughters learn the necessary skills to delete or report bullying:
- Know the school’s policies on bullying. Teachers and administrators are wonderful resources for support.
- Open all messages and comments together if a child is experiencing cyberbullying.
- Review a child’s privacy settings for social media networks and cell phones.
- Monitor a child’s online activity. Take the time to know your child’s passwords, usernames, friends, and sites they have registered accounts.
- Teach social media etiquette. Start simple and as children age include sexting and oversharing.
- Be aware of “catfishing”. Many bullies use fake profiles to gain access to their victims. Strongly caution to only friend people they actually know.
- Tell children to keep passwords private- even from close friends.
- Visit sites a child frequents and understand the ways to block and flag inappropriate conduct.
- Many social media sites allow parents to send documented evidence directly to their sites for review if blocking doesn’t stop unwanted contact.
- Look for programs that allow you access to a teen’s deleted texts, social media accounts, browser history, and texts. Reviewing messages can offer an authentic glimpse into a child’s digital presence.
- Avoid commenting or posting to a cyberbully’s messages. Don’t feed a bully’s need to keep harassing your child.
- Remind your child that this will pass. Offer guidance and shoulder to cry on. If necessary, look for support groups or counselors to help a child process and overcome this adversity.
As parents, we need to challenge ourselves to raise awareness and take an active stance against bullying. What is one thing you will do to help protect our children?
This is a guest post from my friend Amy Williams, who enjoys writing on teen safety, effective parenting tips and strategies, anti-drunk driving and anti-bullying issues. Amy is also a huge advocate of teen safety on social media and will soon be hosting a series of webinars on the issue. Amy is also a proud member of MAAD and the National Bullying Prevention Center.