Warning Signs of Cyberbullying
Keeping families connected with a safe phone
Cell phones, including cell phones for kids, are a lot like power tools: Both can be used to build or to demolish.
Because cyberbullying can be embarrassing to impressionable kids, they rarely come right out and say, “Mom, I’m being bullied online.” In most cases, parents have to be the ones to discover the warning signs of cyberbullying. Still, it can be difficult for parents to know exactly what’s wrong.
Cyberbullying is a big problem in our tech-obsessed world. Threatening, harassing, or demeaning another person online or by phone can wreak havoc on their mental health. Unfortunately, cyberbullying is particularly common among teens—an age group that already struggles with self-image issues. And unlike traditional bullying, it can be almost impossible to get away from.
Cyberbullying goes beyond teasing. Cyberbullying behaviors include, but are not limited to:
- Making mean or hurtful comments online or in texts.
- Threatening physical violence digitally.
- Using offensive, rude, or derogatory names online.
- Sharing explicit or hurtful picture or videos on social media.
- Spreading defamatory lies or rumors on forums.
Warning Signs of Cyberbullying
Losing interest in technology.
One day, your kid is obsessed with their phone. Then the next day, your daughter no longer wants to use it. Maybe your son starts “forgetting” it all the time. Their computer sits there, unopened for days.
While it’s important to help your child reduce screen time, these may be signs that something is wrong.
Gently ask them if there’s something they’d like to talk to you about. Even if they say no, try to get them to open up. They may not want to reveal the root of the issue, or they may worry you won’t take it seriously.
Let them know you believe them and support them. They need that reassurance from you so they can let you help.
Anxiety when receiving an e-mail, notification, or text.
You’re in the living room watching TV with your child when their phone buzzes. They got a text, but rather than reach for their phone, they hunch their shoulders and lean away. Not only do they not want to look at it, but they also don’t want you to see the message they just received.
Behaviors like these are signs your child is receiving messages that are making them anxious. While they may be nervous to learn the status of a job application or date request, it shouldn’t be the norm. If it is, realize bullying may be happening.
Bullies’ victims often fear they will be punished for telling an adult what is going on. The reason is, it’s the very thing that can put a stop to their behavior. When in doubt, remind your child of this.
Uneasiness about going to school.
Often, cyberbullying is accompanied by in-person bullying. For kids, that often happens at school.
Outside of family, kids’ social circles consist largely of their classmates. If your child shows new signs of being afraid to go to school, you need to ask why.
Check in with your child’s teachers. Ask whether your son or daughter is acting differently around their friends at school.
If your child plays online games with classmates, such as League of Legends or Fortnite, ask them how the game is going. Ask about the comments other players are making. Ask whether players like to tease each other. If so, ask to see some of the comments.
Withdrawing from friends and family.
This is a red flag. If your kid isn’t interested in having friends over, visiting family, or generally being social, speak up.
Ask your child what people are saying about them on Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, and Twitter. Find out what their contacts are saying in texts or emails.
If you can, have a trusted friend shadow your child on social media. Ask them to keep an eye out for problematic messages. Cyberbullies do not usually post their threats publicly.
Don’t think of this as spying on your child. Your friend doesn’t have to tell you about everything they see, and the observation doesn’t have to be long-term. But in the short-term, it may be your best option to find the problems causing your kid to withdraw.
When terrible things are going on in your child’s life, one of the warning signs of cyberbullying that they may exhibit is chronic stress. Look for frequent headaches, upset stomachs, changes in eating, difficulty sleeping, or loss of confidence.
If you spot one of these coping behaviors, say something. Otherwise, the stress will only get worse.
If you find out someone online is bullying your child, report it. Let your school officials know. If something illegal is going on—such as threats of violence, or child pornography—alert law enforcement authorities.
What if the bullying doesn’t rise to the level of illegal or school suspension-worthy? Contact the owner of the website the bullying is happening on.
Running away from home, harming themselves, using drugs, or talking about suicide is not normal. These are the reddest of flags and require immediate intervention.
As much as you want to help, it’s important to realize when you’re in over your head. Contact your child’s doctor or school counselor at self-destructive behaviors you spot. Getting upset with your child for engaging in them will only make matters worse.
Whatever your child says, the most important thing to communicate is that they can trust you. Tell them you love them, and remind them you’re in their corner. Because after all, you do, and you are.
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