Say It Isn’t So: Could Your Child Be a Cyberbully?

We talk a lot about cyber bullying on this blog—how to equip kids handle it and how we can work together to prevent it. But what if your child is the cyberbully?

Common statistics claim that nearly 50 percent of kids polled admit they’ve been the targets of online bullies. On the flip side of that statistic, is the fact that nearly the same percentage of kids admit to having bullied others online. That means, that while it may be hard to imagine your little angel falling into the bully camp, it’s certainly an idea worth exploring. 

With peer-to-peer interaction online laced with a culture and slang all its own, it’s easy for some cyberbullying to be camouflaged as everyday banter or “jk-ing,” aka, “just joking.” So, for starters, simply review your child’s social media pages. Be on the lookout for comments, posts, or shares your child passes off as funny, cool, or silly that may actually take a jab at another person.

 Remind your child that cyberbullying includes:

  •  Saying hurtful or intimidating things to someone online, through an email or via text.
  •  Using the Internet to ask people to vote on another person, such as “Is this person hot or not?” or “Would you go out with this person?”
  • Posting private photos, emails, texts, or private instant messages without the permission of another person.
  • Knowingly posting unflattering or embarrassing photos of another person along with negative comments (or joining in if another person does so first).
  • Spreading rumors or false information about another person online.
  • Calling names, racial slurs, or giving hurtful nicknames to people online.
  • Making any type of threat no matter how harmless you think it may be.

‘So what do I do now?’

If you find your child doing any of these things, it’s time to talk. Be careful not to over react, or shame him but do address the situation immediately. It’s likely if the behavior continues unchecked, another parent, school official, or even law enforcement could issue your child consequences before you do.

Sit down with your child one-on-one and begin the conversation without accusing. This is not a comment to be handled in passing. View this as a teaching opportunity, not a lecture. Remember: often times children simply don’t know what they don’t know. Not all cyberbullies are bad kids; they are simply kids who do not fully understand the impact of their online actions.

Be specific. Be prepared with references and specific examples of your child’s online comments and be clear on what is considered cyberbullying and why it is considered cyberbullying. Explain the difference between what is funny and what is cruel.

Stress the power of words and how hurtful words become when they are shared and multiplied online.

Teach compassion. Ask your child to put himself in the shoes of the other person. Ask him if someone directed the same post, photo or “joke” at him online how it he imagines it would him feel. If relevant, suggest your child make amends with the person they may have hurt by their online actions.

Get visual. Kids respond well to video (and often parents need to take a breath). Take a few minutes and watch a short YouTube video on cyber bullying together (we like this one) and discuss the possible short and long-term emotional impact of online gossip. If you have an hour or two, we also suggest the entire family (kids over 13) sit down together and watch the movie Cyberbully

Establish consequences. Every parent will handle the consequences of cyber bullying differently. This is a great opportunity to stress the responsibility of using digital devices and to reinstate the privilege of using a computer or cell phone based on your child’s online behavior.

Use discernment. It’s important to remember that the online culture teens create in their peer group can seem harmless to them but stand out as blatantly offensive to adults. Handle each situation with care and discernment so the conversation around digital responsibility remains open in your home.

Monitor and praise. Moving forward, monitor your child’s online behavior and while you enforce consequences be sure to recognize his online wins and his choices to be positive.

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