Cyberbullying: What is it, and how can we prevent it?

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The benefits of the online world are inseparable from the darker side, which includes haters, FOMO, information overload, Internet addiction and cyberbullying. To protect your kids, their classmates and their school community, it’s worth understanding what cyberbullying is, and the forms it can take.

Cyberbullying is a form of verbal violence using the Internet, computers and cellphones. It takes many forms, which makes it increasingly difficult to keep young cybercitizens safe.

Examples of cyberbullying

  • threats, blackmail;
  • identity theft, impersonation;
  • publishing secrets, humiliating photos and videos;
  • name-calling, ridicule, humiliation, slander, offensive comments;
  • exclusion – exclusion from a group of friends on social media, an online group or a school forum;
  • harassment, cyberstalking – electronically spying on the victim’s life and harassing them with unwanted communications – chats, e-mails, text messages; insults, threats, annoying communications, sending messages impersonating them;
  • hating – vulgar, aggressive behavior and destructive comments whose goal is to express hatred, scorn, malice toward another person or group of people. Haters seek to offend, mock, put down and provoke their victims. In recent years hating has become more intense, because a significant proportion of Internet users wrongly believe they’re anonymous and thus insulated from consequences, which encourages them to spread hateful views and opinions.
  • flaming – intentionally inflammatory comments against another user of a discussion group or social media site. Flaming consists of rapid escalation of aggression and departure from the original subject of the discussion, followed by a transition to antagonistic, offensive messages, insults, profanities and even threats. This type of discussion should be reported to moderators, so that they can be removed and the flamer disciplined, e.g. by blocking their account;
  • trolling – intentionally provoking other Internet users through controversial, insulting, aggressive, malicious or off-topic comments intended to mock and offend interlocutors, draw attention to the troll or start a new discussion. The effect of trolling is usually irritation and anger among the other users and destabilization of the space where it occurs (a forum, website or profile);
  • happy slapping – this form of violence links the physical and online worlds by recording video of a physical attack on a random person, then publishing the video or stills online.

The scale of cyberbullying

The behaviors described above are already part of the daily lives of underage Internet users. The number of teens who have fallen victim to some form of online violence is disturbing. The 2019 publication have experienced:

  • online name-calling (32.2%);
  • humiliation or mocking (19.4%);
  • threats (13.6%);
  • identity theft (13%);
  • blackmail (11.1%).

Furthermore, as many as 48.8% of teens say they’ve been the victims of online verbal aggression, but barely 16% of parents are aware that it’s happened to their children.

Signs your child may be experiencing cyberbullying

Sameer Hinduja and Justin W. Patchin, authors of the bestselling book Bullying Beyond the Schoolyard: Preventing and Responding to Cyberbullying, say may be an indication that a child is being bullied. A child who’s a victim of bullying may:

  • unexpectedly stop using their phone, tablet or computer;
  • seem to be nervous when using technology (e.g. after receiving a text message) or give the impression of being angry, depressed or frustrated while online or immediately afterward;
  • feel unease about going to school or leaving the house at all;
  • constantly sleep, or have sleep disorders;
  • unexpectedly avoid contact with friends and family members;
  • develop eating disorders (excessive or diminished appetite);
  • seem constantly depressed;
  • talk about suicide or how life is meaningless;
  • lose interest in things that used to be important and enjoyable for them (e.g. a hobby, an activity);
  • avoid talking about what they do online;
  • have frequent or extended absences from school;
  • want to spend significantly more time with their parents than with other children;
  • become secretive, particularly about their online activity.

photo: Pheelings media (Shutterstock)

How can we fight cyberbullying?

Cyberbullying can affect anyone – children, teens or adults. That’s why education is so important, as is making your children well-informed users of the Internet, not only so that they recognize when something bad is happening, but also so that they don’t harm others.

Though there’s no 100% effective way to protect yourself and your child against online violence, it’s worth educating them and talking about certain things that happen online.

What can parents do?

      1. Teach your children the rules of netiquette: discuss the rules they should follow online, let them know they’re not anonymous, tell them the consequences of their actions.
      2. Make your child aware that even a seemingly innocent joke can be a form of violence, so they should be careful what they write and how they communicate with others. Teaching your child empathy and respect for others, regardless of the communication channel they’re using, is fundamental and requires particular attention.
      3. Ensure your child of your support, understanding and willingness to help, so that if they fall victim to insensitive or violent behaviors, they won’t be afraid to reach out to you.
      4. Talk with your child about the things that happen online and how to protect their privacy – agree with them on what kind of content they can publish, and most of all let them know that it can be copied and spread inappropriately without their consent.
      5. Show your child how they can edit their privacy settings on the various services they use, so only people they know can access their profile and the content they publish.
      6. Use the SafeKiddo parental control app to more easily monitor your child’s online activity.

What to bear in mind when you encounter online violence

      1. Some forms of cyberbullying are crimes and can be reported to law enforcement. Contrary to appearances, we aren’t anonymous online.
      2. Acts of cyberbullying and abuse can be reported to social media administrators and discussion forum moderators.
      3. Not reacting is silent consent to crossing boundaries and using violence. When you witness disturbing actions, you should react and stand up against them.

What to do if your child experiences cyberbullying

  • SUPPORT AND DIALOG

Unconditional support, demonstrating understanding and providing assurance of your readiness to help your child should be the basis for your reaction if they become the victim of violent behaviors. A sincere conversation, an attempt to find out what exactly happened to them and ensuring they’re safe are the first steps you should take.

  • PSYCHOLOGICAL SUPPORT

Consider enlisting the assistance of a specialist in mental health. Your child may open up more easily to a third party who can provide professional advice, listen and help them with fear or a decline in self-esteem.

  • COLLECTING EVIDENCE

When your child becomes a victim of cyberbullying, preserve the evidence of it (messages on communication apps, SMSes, MMSes, e-mails, photos, videos, graphics, recordings of conversations, screenshots of website entries, comments on social media or in discussion forums, etc.). They’ll come in handy when you contact law enforcement.

  • WORKING WITH YOUR SCHOOL

If your child and their aggressor are in the same school, ask their teacher and the administration for help. Schools are required to ensure their students’ safety and intervene when they’re being harmed. Demand that administrators react appropriately to the situation.

  • CONTACTING THE POLICE

Things like stalking, threats and impersonation are illegal, so if you suspect that your child is a victim or that their safety is threatened, contact the police.

  • PROTECTING SOCIAL MEDIA ACCOUNTS

You can configure privacy controls on social media platforms, e.g. defining who can see the content your child makes available, or blocking a particular user. This is important if your child becomes a victim of cyberbullying via social media. These settings will prevent stalkers from contacting your child.

photo: Daisy Daisy (Shutterstock)

The SafeKiddo parental control app will help you and your child develop rules for using technology. Some of the things you can do with the app are:

  • monitor your child’s activity on YouTube
  • monitor their activity on social media
  • receive SOS messages from your child in cases of danger
  • use geolocation
  • impose time limits on use of websites and applications
  • set websites and applications as exceptions from the category they’re assigned to
  • block websites and applications by age category or your own criteria
  • block access to app stores.

We know every family has different needs, which is why we offer three packages that you can adjust to your needs and those of your loved ones.

Want to see how we protect kids online? Try a free 14-day trial! Click here to register.

main photo: LightField Studios (Shutterstock)

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