How to handle cyberbullying: A parents' guide

October 06, 2017

The rise of the internet and fascination with technology has given way to a new form of bullying. Unlike traditional bullying where perpetrators were easier to identify, cyberbullying shields the aggressor behind the veil of the internet, making it possible for them to strike with anonymity. According to Dr. Cassie Yu, Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Swedish Pediatrics, “Cyberbullying might be subtle, but because the bully is protected by the internet, there is potential for attacks to create more distress and angst in the victim. While the symptoms wouldn’t be too different than traditional bullying - isolation, lack of interaction and not wanting to go to school – cyberbullying results in much more of a generalized fear and avoidance behavior that impairs the way your child functions.”

She continues, “As parents, we need to recognize cyberbullying for what it is - bullying behavior among peers that occurs through the internet, but most often social media. All bullying is volitional behavior that targets another peer with the intent to harm them emotionally through aggressive language or threats.”

Cyberbullying is prevalent among adults and teens alike, however, when a teen is targeted, they are less likely not to tell adults or superiors who can help them. If your child is receiving threatening messages, when is the right time to tell their school?

Dr. Yu stresses the importance of time. “Even if it’s the first time your child experiences cyberbullying and although it may be just one or two direct messages at first, it’s crucial to get the school involved immediately. Your child should know that it’s not enough to just share the hurtful messages with their peers – they should involve you, as the parent, and in the turn the school so they don’t have to address the trauma alone.”

Your school’s role in reducing cyberbullying

Teach bullying education

“Your child’s school needs to be aware that cyberbullying exists and take strides to end it. Cyberbullying is hard to trace and is difficult to regulate outside of school. Because of this, it’s important that the school teaches students generally that cyberbullying is socially unacceptable behavior with dangerous consequences on both sides. As for the victim, they need to know that they are not at fault, and that it takes courage and strength to expose the bully and that recovery can only occur when the harmful behavior is brought to light,” explains Yu.

Identify the aggressor

Yu goes on to say, “It’s important to identify the person who’s conducting the bullying and make sure that education and consequences are directed at that person. The goal is to get them to stop the behavior and reconcile the situation and parties involved. While identifying a cyberbully can be difficult, it helps if the parents and school are proactive in disseminating curriculum that teaches about the consequences of bullying. It will also help to implement a technology monitoring plan.”

Build awareness

“Since this venue for bullying is relatively new, it’s harder to know how to prevent it. Bullying without technology has physical signs and symptoms, whereas the anonymity of bullying through technology increases the impact on mental health. There is so much more opportunity of access with the internet that we sometimes have difficulty addressing cyberbullying. We need to share our research and education with our children and schools and encourage faculty to have those difficult conversations,” Yu says.

Create a safe space

Yu continues,Schools should really educate students on behaviors around technology by addressing appropriate behaviors and behaviors that won’t be tolerated. Also, the school needs to support and encourage students who are being victimized to share their stories. Since school resources often vary, the initiative should come from leadership. Teachers, admins and coaches should all be unified in their demonstration of support, recognizing that this hurtful behavior is wrong and cowardice.”

Your role in reducing cyberbullying

  • Encourage your child to notify you of cyberbullying
  • Educate your children about the issue
  • Speak to a counselor
  • Limit technology use
  • Monitor technology

“There are apps that enable parents to monitor new activity on social media and texts. I would highly recommend parents to be on top of their children’s activity around technology,” encourages Dr. Yu.

“The role of technology is truly new to the current child and adolescent population. What we know about this isn’t positive, and I cannot emphasize the need for parental involvement enough. Start and establish that standard with your child early on so you’ll get more cooperation later. There is so much good that can come from technology but right now it’s really the Wild West with such little regulation. Unfortunately, there is room for traumatizing mental illnesses if not addressed.”

If your child is being targeted by a cyberbully, reach out to their school today. For more helpful parenting tips, sign up for our newsletter.