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Cyberbullying: Recognizing the signs and helping your child

Online communication offers a convenient way for military families to keep in touch with friends and family during deployments and throughout frequent moves. But with the amount of online communication taking place in today’s world, there are some things to watch out for when it comes to keeping your children safe.

According to cyberbullying statistics from i-SAFE Inc., a nonprofit leader in internet safety education, more than half of adolescents and teens have been bullied online, and about the same number have engaged in cyberbullying.

Given the prominent role technology plays in children’s lives, it’s important for parents to understand cyberbullying, be aware of where it can leak into a child’s environment and explore resources and tools to help create a plan to prevent and address cyberbullying, whether their child is a target, a participant or both.

What is cyberbullying?

Cyberbullying is unwanted and repeated aggressive behavior that takes place through digital or electronic devices.

Stopbullying.gov adds that cyberbullying includes “sending, posting or sharing negative, harmful, false or mean content about someone else” and “sharing personal or private information about someone else” that brings them embarrassment and/or humiliation.

These virtual exchanges can be hurtful, and their effects can carry over to face-to-face interactions.

Cyberbullying can leak into your child’s world through avenues such as:

  • Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, YouTube, Facebook and other social media platforms
  • Text messaging, email and messaging apps on phones, tablets and computers
  • Online gaming communities, via voice or through messaging inside the game app
  • Instant messaging, direct messaging, online chatrooms and various websites

Strategies to protect your child against cyberbullying behaviors

If your child is the target of cyberbullying, they will likely need your guidance in navigating the maze of securing cybersafety.

The first thing to do is find out what happened:

  • Talk with them to better understand the situation.
  • Ensure that your children are (and feel) safe.
  • Ask them calmly about the details of the situation — it’s important to understand how it began, who said what and how the interactions escalated.
  • Listen to how they feel and express empathy.
  • Offer assurance that you will help them address the content and the bullying behavior.

Together, you can take these and other steps to deal with the issue:

  • Do not respond to or forward messages.
  • Block the person who is cyberbullying.
  • Report the cyberbullying to the website, app or cellphone service provider
  • Keep a record of the messages that include dates and times as well as screenshots of bullying texts and comments.
  • Change email addresses, screen names, phone numbers and passwords, as necessary.
  • Consult with your school’s administration if the bullying takes place during school hours or on school-issued devices. All 50 states have laws pertaining to cyberbullying, and those laws guide schools in dealing with these aggressions.
  • Contact local law enforcement to report threats of violence, sexually explicit content, unauthorized videos and stalking.

Signs that a child may be cyberbullying others

The roles all of us play in virtual space are fluid — it is easy to cross over from being the target of cyberbullying to being a cyberbully.

Be aware that this can happen easily, and it’s important to get a handle on it quickly. Detecting whether a child or teen is engaging in cyberbullying is a little trickier than with traditional bullying, but youth may demonstrate similar behaviors to face-to-face bullying. Check out this article on how to identify and address bullying behaviors.

Teens may be engaging in cyberbullying activities if they:

  • Switch off their screens quickly or try to hide their devices when you are close by
  • Use or want to use their devices at all hours of the night
  • Avoid discussions about what they’re doing online, won’t disclose with whom they’re engaging or won’t share what they’re laughing about
  • Show increases in behavioral issues at home or at school

Tips for addressing your child’s cyberbullying behaviors

If you think your child may be engaging in cyberbullying, it is best to approach the situation with an open mind. As mentioned above, the roles played in virtual communication spaces can shift quickly. The goal is to explore, understand and correct cyberbullying behavior and prevent your child or teen from engaging in the behavior in the future.

  • Maintain open communications with teens. Make sure they know they can come to you to discuss issues they’re having with peers — online or offline.
  • Ask questions so you can better understand specific situations. How did the interactions begin? Did they feel attacked or victimized? Is their behavior a form of retaliation?
  • Be clear about what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior and the importance of demonstrating respect for others, in person and in virtual spaces.
  • Help your child understand how it would feel to be the target of cyberbullying.
  • Set up parental controls, if necessary, to monitor your child’s online activities.
  • Connect with other parents or seek counseling services for you or your child.

Talk openly with your children about cyberbullying, keep a pulse on their online interactions and share strategies for dealing with the issue. By doing so, you can teach them to be aware of their behaviors and help them navigate difficult situations. For additional help, contact Military OneSource to speak with a child and youth counselor. Call 800-342-9646, find OCONUS dialing options or start a live chat.

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