Cyberbullying is a growing concern as more children and adolescents worldwide have access to more sophistocated technology. It is complicated by the fact that often parents and teachers do not truly understand the most recent technology or its devastating potential for causing pain and humiliation to children and adolescents.
Cyberbullying was defined by Tokunaga (2010) as “any behavior performed through electronic or digital media by individuals or groups that repeatedly communicates hostile or aggressive messages intended to inflict harm or discomfort on others.” Some have suggested that the aggressive messages need not be repeated due to the shareable nature of online content. The prevalence of cyberbullying was found to be 32% of boys and over 36% of girls by Hinduja and Patchin (2008). While this percentage is unacceptably high, it appears to have reached a peak in developed nations (Livingstone et al., 2016).
Research has shown that the victims of cyberbullying (and “traditional” bullying) tend to be from minority ethnic groups, LGBQT, disabled, or facing mental health, or family trouble (Livingstone et al., 2016).
Additionally, cyberbullies feel free to do things that they might feel too embarassed or inhibited to do in “real life” and they do not directly see the emotional impact on their victims, so it is theorized that this worsens their behaviour (Livinstone et al., 2016).
Children are usually reluctant to report cyberbullying to their parents and teachers. Here are some of the reasons:
- they are embarrassed over the bullying — for example, if a naked photo of a teen is being sent around without that teen’s permission, that teen might not want their parents to know they took such a photo of themselves.
- they are afraid that their own computer privileges will be taken away.
How can you find out if your child is a victim of cyberbullying?
Keep the lines of communication with your child/adolescent open. Talk to them about cyberbullying and let them know that they will NOT lose their phone or computer if they tell you that they are being victimized.
Watch for changes in behaviour such as being upset or jumpy after being on the internet or after getting a text message. If your teen suddenly gets moody or angry over nothing, consider that something might be wrong. On the one hand this is a time of raging hormones and parents often have difficulty understanding their teens. However, often there is a reason underlying the moodiness and it is important to be as open and understanding as possible.
One thought about adolescents, which is slightly off topic: Adolescence is a time when parents often feel their child has “changed,” but teens frequently need their parents’ love and understanding more than ever. When a teen says, “I hate you! You are the worst parent in the world!” they do not truly mean this. They still secretly want their mommy and daddy. And they want to be adults. It is a very confusing time for everyone.
What can you do about cyberbullying?
Keep a record of all emails, texts, chats, messages, etc. that contain bullying and report them to the school and to your internet service provider. Talk to your teen and let them know that it is wrong for them to be treated this way and that it is not their fault.
Get more information! The following two sites are excellent and I highly recommend them:
Cyberbullying is a reality of life in the modern era, but that does not mean we have to be complacent about it. It is important to communicate with your teen and let them know that you are on their side.
Adolescence is a time of many changes. You may find out things about your teen that are hard for you to accept. For example, you may find out that your teen has experimented with alcohol, drugs, sexual behaviour, or that they are LGBQT. It is very important that your teen knows that you love and accept them no matter what and that you are in their corner in terms of helping them to figure life out. Sometimes, you will need to take a deep breath and swallow your judgment and determine the best response in order to keep the lines of communication open and to keep your teen safe.
The reason this is relevant to cyberbullying is that if your child has engaged in behaviours you might disapprove of and someone took a photo, for example, and is circulating that online as a form of cyberbullying, if your teen knows you will “kill” them for it, they will never open up to you. Parenting a teen is hard work. Being a teen is also hard. However, with compassion and communication, you can successfully navigate these challenging years.
And a guide for parents:
Hinduja S, Patchin J (2008) Cyberbullying: An exploratory analysis of factors related to offending and victimization. Deviant Behav 29:129-156.
Livingstone, Sonia, Stoilova, Mariya and Kelly, Anthony (2016) Cyberbullying: incidence, trends and consequences. In: Ending the Torment: Tackling Bullying from the Schoolyard to Cyberspace. United Nations Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children, New York, USA, pp. 115-120. ISBN 9789211013443. Retrieved from http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/68079/1/Livingstone_Cyberbullying%20incidence%20trends_2016.pdf
Tokunaga RS (2010) Following you home from school: A critical review and synthesis of research on cyberbullying victimization. Comp Human Behav 26:277-287.