How Can Cyberbullying Affect Your Children and How to Protect Them?

Now that online harassment has become a more frequent issue on social media, it’s essential to understand the possible consequences of cyberbullying on children’s development and overall well-being. A recent cyberbullying survey among young people between 10 to 18 years showed that around half experienced online harassment. Parents, teachers, and educators have an incredibly challenging task of educating children about the threats they may face online.

Read more: Internet Safety for Kids: Few Cyber Safety Experts Share Tips for Keeping Children Safe

Firstly, we must start with awareness. Whether teaching children how to post safely on social media or the dangers of hostile gaming communities, we must better understand where bullying takes place and what form it takes.

 

Below are some noteworthy trends to help you navigate cyberbullying discussions.

 

Cyberbullying Facts For Kids and Teenagers

1. Occurrence of cyberbullying spiked during the pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic made us more dependable on technology, which is more evident among children and teenagers. Classrooms, playgrounds, and other physical surroundings of social interaction were replaced by an online environment, which resulted in a 21% increase in social media usage. As a result, children and teenagers became more exposed to hostile behaviors online, and, consequentially, parents became increasingly worried about their children’s well-being.

Read more: Stranger Danger: Does it Apply Online?

2. The risk of getting bullied depends on the social media format

Not all social media is created equal. Depending on the format, some social media platforms are more interactive and, therefore, more likely to become a culprit for cyberbullying. In line with this, research showed that Instagram ranked highest in the number of cyberbullying incidents, and it’s closely followed by other platforms, TikTok and Snapchat. These platforms were most likely to have individuals targeted with sexual remarks, mean comments, and fake rumors.

 

3. Physical appearance is the most common reason for bullying

Social media platforms often promote unrealistic beauty standards that teenagers try to follow to increase their confidence and gain social media fame. Due to this, girls are more likely to become victims of cyberbullying than boys, and they tend to more easily engage in unhealthy practices that can endanger their mental and physical health. In fact,  research shows that 61% of cyberbullying picks on physical appearance, while the second most common reason with 25% occurrence tends to be harassment based on someone’s intelligence or academic achievements. Other common motives are race, sexuality, financial status, and religion. Even though these motifs tend to be dominant reasons for cyberbullying, abusers often carefully choose personal details from their victims’ private lives to humiliate and terrorize them.

 

4. Cyberbullying impacts can be severe and long-lasting

Cyberbullying can significantly affect a young person’s well-being and lead to long-lasting psychological problems. In some cases, it can lead to more severe mental health issues. Teenagers are prone to establishing their self-image based on the opinions of their community. Unfortunately, online bullying is one of the most significant contributing factors to developing self-esteem issues, which can become a cause of many others problems. For instance, 69% of 9-12-year-olds reported cyberbullying impacted their self-esteem, 32% said it hurts their friendships, and 13% admitted that cyberbullying affected their physical health.

How to protect your child from cyberbullying

1. Set clear tech boundaries

Make sure you’re setting the boundaries on how much time your children can spend online per day. Instead of prohibiting them from going online and using this as a punishment, try talking to them and explaining the negative aspects of their favorite gadgets in a meaningful way. Also, instead of simply taking their devices away, help them find other activities they can do. If your children spend a lot of time on the internet, gradually cut down their online time and ensure they’re using their free time constructively.

 

2. Teach your child about online threats

Cybersecurity or cyberbullying-related headline in the newspaper can be an excellent teaching moment. When you stumble upon a story about cyberbullying, bring it up during dinner and ask your children what they think about it and how they would handle it. Try not to scare them, and let them know they have your support. If you’re talking to a younger child, use picture books, cartoons, and their favorite TV shows to illustrate the point you’re trying to convey. Since children are getting exposed to technology at younger ages, it is essential to start teaching them about proper online etiquette as soon as they interact with other users.

 

3. Foster an open dialogue with your child

Familiarize yourself with social media networks your child use and check their activity. Don’t monitor everything they do online, and never strip them away from their needed freedom. Also, thoroughly explain your concerns and why you’re interested in their online activities. Focus on building a healthy relationship with your children and encourage them to talk openly about their problems, especially if they encounter name-calling, teasing, or similar behaviors that could lead to harassment. Make mental health a frequent topic in your household, and create an environment where mental health issues aren’t taboo. Furthermore, teach them that it is equally important to react and report cyberbullying incidents if they happen to someone else they know. If they’re shy or don’t want to draw attention to themselves, encourage them to reach out to you or anonymously report to school authorities that can handle the issue adequately.

4. Monitor behavior changes

Commonly bullied kids will try to hide it from their family, friends, and school authorities. Any sign of emotional trauma often gets mistaken for other factors, e.g., puberty. Therefore, monitor your child’s behavior closely and talk to them if you notice anything unusual happening for a prolonged period. If you’re unsure how to handle the situation, reach out to a professional and ask for help finding the right approach. Furthermore, if you suspect your child has been a victim of cyberbullying, look for the following patterns in their behavior:

 

How to tell if your child has been bullied online?

  1. Your child has been more reserved than usual.
  2. Your child is moody, stressed, or anxious.
  3. Your child doesn’t want to go to school or activity they usually like.
  4. Your child has been experiencing learning difficulties or a decline in academic performance.
  5. You’ve seen changes in your child’s sleep or eating habits.
  6. You’ve noticed that your child has been spending more time online.
  7. Your child is showing a tendency to self-harm or threaten suicide.

 

If you’ve noticed your child has been showing signs of the abovementioned behaviors, seek professional help as soon as possible.

What can your child do in the case of cyberbullying?

1. Not reply to bullying messages

Bullies thrive on their victim’s reactions. Victims almost always have an urge to react and respond to their messages to defend themselves. However, it most commonly leads to exposing themselves to more harassment and giving their abusers control over more extensive aspects of their lives. The best reaction is not responding at all. Teach children to ignore potential abusers and strip them of any power.

 

2. Block the bully

Social media tend to be the most common platform for cyberbullying, and networks had to start developing measures to protect their users. Since almost all social media platforms have a “block” option, advise children to block bullies instead of engaging in discussions with them.

 

3. Report bullying

Foster an open dialogue with children and encourage them to report any harassment they see or experience online. Guide them on handling the issue, ensure proper emotional support, and encourage them to report their abusers’ profiles on social media. If needed, don’t hesitate to report the bullying to the authorities and take legal action against them.

 

4. Save the messages as evidence

If the bullying continues and reaches the point where you need to seek legal support, having evidence you can present to the court is essential. Advise children to keep all bullying messages they receive from the abuser and consult with an expert on how to use them if needed. Even though providing messaging evidence in court can significantly strengthen the legal procedure, all evidence must be collected in compliance with applicable laws and regulations, or they may get rejected and seen as tainted.

Conclusion

Since you can’t constantly track your children’s online activities, you must create an environment of mutual trust where they can freely express their concerns and report bullying they may encounter. Look for changes in their behavior and react if you notice some concerning patterns. Teach them how to address the issue adequately, and don’t hesitate to contact experts for help. If necessary, including medical experts, schools, and legal authorities to help your child overcome the cyberbullying trauma. Also, teach your children proper online etiquette from an early age to protect them from cyber abusers, and prevent them from becoming one. Lastly, talk to other parents, and always stay informed about your children’s online risks.

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