As social network use rises among teens and adolescents, more and more people are investigating how these new methods of communication and socialization are affecting our children. Is the overwhelming presence of social media hurting or helping our kids? This is a complicated question and not one that can be definitively answered one way or the other. However, while there is ample research to support both sides of the debate, there is one thing on which both sides agree: cyberbullying is a legitimate concern and must be taken seriously.
Let’s start with a definition. Cyberbullying is “a communication or posting by one or more people using cybertechnology or digital media designed to hurt, threaten, embarrass, annoy, blackmail or otherwise target another person.”
Most people have experienced some form of bullying in their lives. However, cyberbullying is much more than the online equivalent of someone taking your lunch money. Many people assume that face-to-face bullying carries greater risk, but given the sensitive personal information often found online, the anonymity of screen names or handles, and the ease with which fake accounts can be created, cyberbullying has the potential to cause trauma that is as serious, if not more so than in-person bullying. Cyberbullying is often hard to detect (i.e. private messages, comments, or photos that are not visible to outsiders) and frequently goes unreported. What’s more, cyberbullying can, and frequently does happen in tandem with face-to-face bullying. If there is adult acting as the aggressor, the situation is elevated to cyberharassment or cyberstalking. For some great examples of the impact cyberbullying can have, check out the link to the “Cyberbullying Scenarios” at the bottom of this page.
So, what should you do about it?
EDUCATE. Just as different parents react differently when their children are bullied on the playground, each parent should broach the subject of cyberbullying in a way that best suits his or her child’s needs. However, the nuances of internet communication can make cyberbullying much more complicated than anything that happens on the playground. For this reason it is critical that you and your child know the warning signs and that you both take basic precautions to protect yourselves. Below is a bank of resources to help, including a link to state cyberbullying laws, education materials, and parent forums.
COMMUNICATE. One of the more important steps to dealing with a bullying situation, online or off, is establishing an open line of communication between you and your child. Talk with your kids regularly and make sure they know what to do if they or someone they know becomes a victim of cyberbullying.
STAY TUNED. Cyberbullying is a hot topic, and new research and resources are published every day. Keep your eye out for the latest alerts on social network privacy controls and check the FamilySignal Blog frequently for news and advice regarding your family’s online safety!
- States with Cyberbullying Laws
- (Courtesy of the Megan Meier Foundation and the Cyberbullying Research Center)
- Beyond Bullies
- Great compilation of resources and information about both bullying and cyberbullying
- Connects kids with “ETeen Leaders” who can answer questions and give advice on bullying and cyberbullying. Teens can also apply to be mentors and ETeen Leaders.
- Bullying Parent’s Forum
- Read other parents’ stories and share your own. Also provides helpful links to literature and support groups that deal with bullying and cyberbullying.
- Academic Research on Bullying and Cyberbullying
- The University of Nebraska-Lincoln is home to the Bullying Research Network, which compiles research on issues relating to bullying.
- Cyberbullying Scenarios
- If you’re not sure what cyberbullying looks like, these scenarios give you a good idea of the lengths to which some bullies will go. Discuss them with your children and decide how you would react if they happened to you.
- (Courtesy of the Cyberbullying Research Center)