No one likes a bully. They’re mean, they make you feel bad, and they’re well known as the biggest drawback of schoolyard playgrounds. For all that we wish they didn’t exist, bullies are too frequently a factor when we’re growing up. At least parents and teachers both carry plenty of tools and training to fight the effects of playground meanies.
Unfortunately, social networks bring a whole new kind of peer cruelty: cyberbullying. While the phrase itself might sound a little silly, the tragic consequences of cyberbullying constantly make the news. The heartbreaking suicides of Ryan Halligan and Megan Meier show the deadly results of untempered bullying. Recently, ABC Family released Cyberbully, an educational drama that introduces kids to the very real dangers that lurk online.
As much as we wish it weren’t so, cyberbullying is a real phenomemon, and it regrettably seems here to stay. As parents, we must be armed with the tools to protect our kids from online bullies and their effects.
What is cyberbullying?
The first step in combating cyberbullying is understanding what it is. In the same way that kids pass mean-spirited notes and hateful jokes written on paper or whispers in each other’s ears, so too can they send private messages over Twitter or Facebook.
Photo editing tools make it too easy for bullies to change other children’s pictures, replacing parts of the photo with cruel graphics or inappropriate, sexually explicit material. The online illusion of anonymity makes it easy for kids to send threatening emails to one another. Chat programs let bullies humiliate their prey nearly 24/7.
A survey of students by i-Safe shows that 35% of kids have been threatened online, and nearly 20% of those kids have had it happen more than once. Even more frightening for parents, 58% of kids who experienced online bullying never told their parents.
Obviously, parents want to protect their kids from the stress associated with cyberbullying. Here’s what you can do to combat cyberbullying in your kids lives.
Talk about cyberbullying
Make sure that cyberbullying is part of your ongoing conversation with your kids. Remember, over half of kids getting bullied don’t tell their parents. While you can hope to catch cyberbullying while it’s happening, chances are that the cruelty is taking place in private messages and behind the scenes in your kids’ lives. You won’t see it yourself.
The best way to be positive you get the chance to take action against cyberbullies is to ensure that your child tells you when it happens.
Lock the bully out of your life
The first step in protecting yourself from bullies is to lock them out of your online life. If your child doesn’t see or interact with a bully, there’s less opportunity for bullying to take place.
Locking a bully out of your teen’s networks is a little different for each service.
- Facebook You can unfriend and block anyone you’d like on Facebook. You’re not required to give a reason. Make sure your teen doesn’t tag photos with the cyberbully or even reference the person in a status message; the goal here is to cut off all interaction. It might be best to tightly restrict your Facebook privacy settings as well.
- Twitter Your Twitter account is also capable of blocking a harasser. When you block that individual, you will no longer see his messages. You should note that if your Twitter profile is public, the bully will still be able to see your messages (though he or she won’t be able to follow you). It’s probably best to set your profile to protected status.
- Google+ You can block individuals on Google+ whenever you see a message from them. When you block someone on Google+, you will not see that person’s content, they won’t be able to comment on your content, and that person will be removed from your Google+ circles. However, they’ll still be able to see any posts you set to public.
Obviously, these three services are not the only ones used in cyberbullying. The good news is that any reputable online service takes cyberbullying very seriously and offers similar channels to block harassers.
When all else fails, report the cyberbully
Of course, part of what makes cyberbullying so pervasive and insidious is that savvy bullies can easily create false and misleading online identities. With these fake credentials, a bully can pursue your child despite already being ignored and blocked. Even without duplicate accounts, the bully can find ways to continue stalking your child online. If your child’s blocked the aggressor and the harassment continues, it’s time to report the abuse.
Each social network has its own method for reporting abuse. Facebook provides detailed information on how to report abuse. Twitter gives you an online form to report abusive users. Google+ also allows you to report abuse wherever a user’s messages appear, the same way you would simply block the individual.
These aren’t your only tools. StopBullying.gov provides a list of additional steps and contacts to mitigate bullying. If the bullying is connected with school life, contacting the school’s administrator is an obvious step. If your child is at immediate risk of harm due to the bullying, you should contact the police.
Make sure you’re on the team
The statistic that 58% of parents aren’t aware of cyberbullying looms over all these tips. As a parent, you must make sure you address peer intimidation and bullying before the behavior occurs. You need to be on the team ahead of time so you can help your child get resolution. With that preparation cyberbullying absolutely is something you can help your child stop.