Once upon a time, bullying was limited to the physical world. Since what seems like forever, we sent our kids to school knowing it was possible for someone to pick on them in the classroom, on the playground, or on the bus, but there was relief in knowing that once they came home, they were safe. But in the digital age, all that has changed with cyberbullying. Now bullying can happen in any number of places, contexts, or locations, and sometimes that place is right in their pocket.

What is cyberbullying?

Cyberbullying—defined as willful and repeated harm or harassment inflicted using computers, cell phones, and other electronic devices. It can range from rude comments to lies and threats. Unlike old-fashioned bullying, however, the repetition can be less personal, but just as hurtful when shared widely, or even virally. Regardless of the context, all bullying involves a power imbalance—real or perceived—that’s physical, psychological, and/or social, and it all connects to their school life. It is precisely because cyberbullying may not occur during the school day or on school grounds that it can cause lasting pain.

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What are some warning signs that my child is being bullied?

There is often a disconnect between young people’s experience of bullying and what the adults see. Here are some things to look out for:

• Quickly switches screens or closes programs when someone walks by

• Uses the computer or phone until all hours of the night

• Gets unusually upset if s/he cannot use the computer or phone, or after using the device

• Appears nervous or jumpy when a message appears

• Avoids discussions about what they are doing on the computer or on their phone

• Becomes withdrawn from friends and family

• Fear of going to school

• Sudden drop in grades or interest in schoolwork

• Fewer smiles, lots of frowns, tears

• Loss of appetite

• Disruption in sleeping patterns

• Wanting to stay home

• Frequent bad dreams or trouble sleeping

• Decreased self-esteem

• Feelings of helplessness

• Complaints about headaches, stomachaches, other physical complaints

Remember, not all these signs need to be in place before you suspect a problem and not all of these signs are definitive proof that you child is the victim of cyberbullying. Often a simple change of behavior or unwillingness to go to school is enough of a clue that it’s time for you to become involved and find out what has caused the changes in their behavior. And don’t worry if you do not get a clear answer from your child right away. Your empathy and engagement with them are most important to show you care.

Your child tells you s/he is being bullied. What do you do?

You love your child so your first instinct is to get upset and take away their device, but that’s the last thing you should do. If a parent or guardian gets upset, the child will undoubtedly feel worse. Remember, the problem isn’t the technology people use. The technology is just a platform. If you take away your child’s device or restrict their access on an app or website, the bullying may just move to another platform. Here are some effective tips to getting on the right track to help your child :

• Ask the child to explain what happened exactly so that you can empathize with them. Your child may simply call it “drama” or gossip, pranks, or arguments, but that doesn’t mean it is ok. Help them think through what happened, how they feel about it and what they are going to do about it. No one knows how to resolve any situation without understanding it fully. It is essential that you involve your child in the process rather than just taking over yourself, because the main goal is to help hi mor her strengthen the self-confidence that might’ve been broken through the bullying.

• Encourage your child not to respond to the cyberbullying as this will only make things worse. In addition, encouraging your child to fight back when bullied suggests that aggression is an effective way to respond to being a target of bullying and perpetuates the cycle of violence. Remember, getting back at a bully turns you into one.

• Contact your school. Let them know about the events in as much detail as possible. You want to work with them to solve the problem. Bringing an end to bullying can only benefit your child and others who may be victims. It will also help the child who bullies.

• Keep the facts. Do not erase messages or offending pictures. They can be evidence. Some cyberbullying actually breaks the law, especially if it leads to the modification, dissemination, damage, or destruction of your child’s privately stored electronic information. Contact the police if cyberbullying involves threats of violence, extortion, obscene or harassing phone calls or if text messages show harassment, stalking, hate crimes, or child pornography.

• Try to identify the person doing the cyberbullying. You can get help from your service provider. Sending inappropriate language and images may violate terms and conditions of providers or websites. Consider contacting them to lodge a complaint.

• While you may want to face the bully’s parents, do not do that. It is the job of the school to intervene. Keep talking to the school staff and your child. If things don’t seem to be improving, have another talk with the school. Keeping the dialogue open helps everyone. If you respond publicly or if your child’s peers find out, things could get worse.

• Help your child resist bullying by strengthening talents and skills in sports, music and art. Suggest s/he reach out to other classmates and make friends (a teacher can help suggest students).

• A child needs to know that reporting bullying is not tattling. Make sure your child knows how to get help from adults.

No matter what you do, make sure to respond thoughtfully, not fast. If your kid comes to you for help, you are one of the lucky ones, so make sure listening is key! Getting the full story is essential to helping your child and often being heard respectfully sets kids on the path toward healing.

About the Author:

Lauren Wyner

Lauren Wyner is currently the Social Studies Academic Specialist for Catapult Learning where she plans, implements, trains, directs, and maintains the Archdiocese of New York’s ELA and Social Studies curricula, digital programs, and teacher training. After studying English and Anthropology as an undergraduate student, Lauren earned a Master of Arts in TESOL and Applied Linguistics from Teachers College at Columbia University where she focused on crucial roles of pragmatics, language use, and policy in educational settings all over the world. Having worked as a teacher, curriculum developer, and program manager of humanities and English as a Second Language courses for all ages both domestically and abroad for over a decade, Lauren is excited to share her wealth of knowledge and experience with you.