It wasn’t long ago that bullying was relegated to face-to-face interaction. This meant that, if a child was safe at home, the bully would either have to call the house phone or come to the door and get through the family. Good luck with that.
Now, cyberbullying can take place at any time, anywhere, and the victim and the bully can reside miles apart. With email, social media, texts and more, the options seem endless, and the possibility of being bullied greater than ever before.
Parents need to be aware of cyberbullying, to help prevent their children from being bullied or becoming the bully. Dr. Walter Wilson, child and adolescent psychiatrist with HealthPoint Family Care, answers some questions on this important topic.
How can parents recognize cyberbullying?
Pay attention to how your teen is engaging with their device. Warning signs include noticeable changes in device usage (increases or decreases) which include frequency of texting, shutting down a social media account or having multiple social media accounts, increased anger or sadness, becoming withdrawn or depressed, losing interest in activities they previously enjoyed, and becoming concerningly secretive about their activity on social media.
What can parents do to help prevent cyberbullying?
First, parents should be informed of the various social media apps and websites available to teenagers. They should educate themselves on how they work and any potential dangers.
There is software available that parents can use to monitor social media activity without having to directly access the device. Some of this software is free, while others may charge a fee.
It’s also important to speak with teenagers and teach them how to engage in social media activities in a way that is healthy for both themselves and others. It’s a skill that can be taught just like any other skill. It’s important to make sure they are emotionally and psychologically prepared for engaging with others on social media platforms. That could be based on level of maturity or the reasoning for wanting to join social media communities in the first place. Social media is another “world” — just like school, home or the community — where teenagers will need guidance and support. Consistent and continuous monitoring is needed to make sure teenagers are able to navigate these spaces in a safe and healthy manner.
What else should parents keep in mind?
It’s important to provide love and support to teenagers who are victims of cyberbullying. If a parent believes their teen is a victim of this, use the appropriate channels to report it. This might include speaking with the teen’s school, as many schools now have rules against cyberbullying.
Of course, if cyberbullying involves threats to a teen’s safety, then local law enforcement should be contacted. Commonsensemedia.org and stopbullying.gov are two very good resources for parents to learn more about this topic and prepare their teens, and themselves, for how social media can be navigated, and enjoyed, in a healthy way.