Cyberbullying prevention best practices
Bullying comes in many forms and degrees of seriousness. From a simple instance of playground teasing to continued harassment, bullying has long been a concern of many who have seen firsthand the effects of such behavior. Now, via regular use of social media platforms, chat messaging, and other forms of online communication, bullying has evolved to cyberbullying, and the mental, social, and physical effects can be even more detrimental for the victims.
Numerous efforts have been undertaken all across the country to educate parents and children about cyberbullying. Health care providers have received special training to better provide assistance and care to those who are experiencing or have experienced cyberbullying. And initiatives have been started with the aim of tackling and preventing cyberbullying both in school and at home.
Of course, not everything can be left in the hands of school administrators and other authority figures. Parents must also be aware of the effects of cyberbullying, the signs their child might exhibit if they are a victim of a child cyberbully, and cyberbullying prevention and best practices.
This is certainly not an easy challenge to tackle. Children who are victims of a child cyberbully, while often exhibiting several behavioral changes, might be reluctant to talk about it with adults. The reasons for this are typically twofold: embarrassment or shame, and the fear that things might get worse if it is discovered that they told on their aggressors.
But make no mistake — cyberbullying is more than just one individual picking on another. In fact, it is defined as "willful and repeated harm inflicted through the use of computers, cellphone, or other electronic devices."
The harm can have long-lasting effects which include depression, anxiety, mental health issues, self-harm, and even suicide. That’s why it is so imperative that both parents and their children work together to stop incidences of cyberbullying. And while there are numerous resources, tools, and other forms of aid that can help, there are also some easy-to-follow cyberbullying prevention best practices that parents and children can follow to mitigate the harm and hopefully end the cycle of aggression.
Cyberbullying prevention practices are fairly new
Although there have been incidences of cyberbullying for more than a decade, it is only in more recent years, as technology has advanced, that cyberbullying became much more prevalent. Unfortunately, suicides resulting from cyberbullying are not just a recent and rare phenomenon, either. And while not every case of cyberbullying and the damage left in its wake has gained nationwide attention, a rash of child suicides going as far back as 2006 has caused many of the nation’s lawmakers, school administrators, and health officials to act.
All states currently have anti-bullying policies, and In 2004, anti-bullying measures were proposed in the U.S. House of Representatives to be included in the Safe and Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act. In 2008, Congress passed the Protecting Children in the 21st Century legislation, which includes mentions of cyberbullying. However, not all states have updated their own legislation; currently, only 22 states have anti-bullying laws that also include cyberbullying.
There is also a difficulty in combatting cyberbullying in that many just don’t fully understand it or they downplay its harmful effects. Older authority figures who are not as technology-savvy as today’s youth don’t fully grasp what cyberbullying actually is or the context in which it takes place.
For example, if you’ve ever been in a room where several children were present, you may have noticed that many of them are using their phones or tablets rather than talking directly to each other. You could be a witness to a child cyberbully right then and there and not even be aware of it. Bullies and victims could be miles away, or in the same room sitting right across from each other.
While many states play catch-up enacting much-needed legislation, it falls upon other organizations to provide advice and education for parents and children. As of now, one of the best things parents can do is avail themselves of the information and resources available on websites such as stopbullying.gov.
These cyberbullying prevention websites offer excellent advice to both parents and children. Consider these cyberbullying prevention best practices and talk to your children about them. Even if they have not been a victim of cyberbullying, the information is still highly useful and relevant. It may also help others in need who have not yet discovered this knowledge.
Advice for parents
As mentioned above, children who are victims of a child cyberbully don’t often ask for help. If they do happen to talk to you, consider yourself lucky. But if you have noticed changes in your child’s behavior, such as lack of sleep, an unwillingness to go to school, falling grades, or agitation when looking at the phone or computer, then you will certainly want to broach the subject with them. Look for one or more of the following signs, which could indicate your child is a victim of a child cyberbully.
- Avoiding social behavior
- Isolating his or herself in their room more than usual
- Being unusually withdrawn
- Difficulty concentrating on schoolwork
- Falling grades
- Skipping school or expressing a desire to skip school
- Appearing agitated when using the phone, tablet, or computer
- Hiding their phone or computer screen from your view
- Using drugs or alcohol
- Expressing dark thoughts or emotions
- Talking about suicide
When you do speak to your children, ask them in a warm and caring manner. You may need to coax the truth from them, and even then, be prepared for them to leave out a lot of details due to shame or embarrassment. It’s important to remember that this is your child’s life, and working with them to discover the extent of the situation — and subsequently finding a solution — is critical.
Make no mistake; the effort must be a team effort. You cannot fully take the reins from your child, nor should they keep you completely in the dark. You may need to contact others, such as school officials or your child’s friends, and if you do, make sure your child is also aware of the conversations you’ve had so that you can remain a trustworthy ally.
It’s also important to react calmly and thoughtfully. Understandably, you could be quite upset upon hearing about any instances of a child cyberbully launching attacks against your child. But acting rashly can result in the cyberbullying actually growing worse for your child. Your response and action must be considered carefully, and you would also do well to listen to the input of your child. They may have their own viable solution for stopping cyberbullying that works for them, and only need the aid of someone in authority to enact it.
Listen to your children
Although they find it hard to speak up about cyberbullying at first, what victims really desire is to be heard by someone who is truly willing to listen with sincere concern. This is actually the first step to healing the unseen damage caused by cyberbullying.
Ultimately, the goal is to restore your child’s self-respect and dignity. There can be many avenues to achieving this goal, and the one you choose will likely differ from the one taken by another family. That’s why both you and your child must discuss the course of action together. Let your child know you have their back, and they’ll be more resilient in facing this and other challenges in the future.
Below is advice for children and teens to follow for cyberbullying prevention best practices. You can discuss this advice with them or allow them to read it for themselves and discuss it afterward if they are so inclined.
Advice for children and teens
It’s not your fault
Nobody deserves to be bullied, whether in person or using digital means. If you are being cyberbullied, you need to know that it is not your fault. It is not uncommon for victims of bullies to feel that they brought it on themselves. This is not true. Of course, arguments can occur between two people, or perhaps you committed a transgression against someone. But a single incident should be talked about and resolved. Continued and unnecessary cruelty toward someone is never warranted.
It can be difficult to avoid responding to a child cyberbully. You naturally want to defend yourself. But getting a strong reaction from you is typically exactly what bullies want. And it usually only spurs them forward to continue their harsh treatment of you. Giving them a reaction gives them the power they crave. And it can also cause things to escalate. Do your best to ignore cyberbullying, no matter how hurt or angry you may be. Focus on other things and friends that make you happy.
At the same time, you can’t dismiss a child cyberbully completely. You should take screenshots or find another way to save every instance of cyberbullying, cataloging the date and times it occurred. In many states, cyberbullying has strict repercussions. Even in states that do not have strong legislation against cyberbullying, reports of such activity, when backed by evidence, can still result in disciplinary action.
Ask the bullies to stop
Believe it or not, sometimes this works. You can face the child cyberbully and tell them to stop any attempts at bullying behavior because you won’t stand for it. But you should only do this if you feel comfortable doing so. Use your judgment. Take another friend with you if it helps.
Never be afraid to ask for help
It’s important to remember that you are never alone. There is always someone you can talk to about the problems you are having with cyberbullying. If, for some reason, you feel you can’t talk to your parents, then perhaps another relative, your friends, a health professional, a guidance counselor or teacher, or some other authority figure you can trust.
Use the tech at your fingertips
Make any and all attempts to block the person or people that are bullying you. Block them on social media, from messaging apps, and from any other service you and they may both use. You can also report cyberbullying behavior to the platforms or network service. It may result in the user getting their account suspended. The less a person is able to harass you, the greater chance you’ll be able to resume a normal life again.
Also, be sure to keep your accounts private. If any of your friends know your passwords, change them immediately. It’s unfortunate, but sometimes even your closest friends can turn on you in order to avoid being cyberbullied themselves.
Help your friends
If it isn’t you that is being cyberbullied but rather one or more of your friends, don’t just stand by. Take a stand and help your friends, even if it means you may become a target as well. At the very least, listen to your friends and be there for them, and if the cyberbullying contains physical threats of harm, report it to the authorities before something bad happens.
Additional cyberbullying prevention best practices
There are additional steps you can take within your community to try to end cyberbullying or, at the very least, ensure those who engage in it are suitably reprimanded.
Talk to school administrators
Get together with other parents and address the situation with school administrators. Discuss having protocols and training measures for staff to look for signs of a child cyberbully and actions they can take to prevent such behavior. Ask administrators to put together a presentation for students addressing the effects of cyberbullying, as well as the repercussions for aggressors.
Programs that raise general awareness of cyberbullying and serve to promote a safe school environment will go a long way toward curbing cyberbullying, as well as encouraging others to speak out against it if they witness it. For parents, talking to specialists can provide them with more insight into how they can talk to their own children and handle any acts of cyberbullying.
Overall, schools must make it clear to students that cyberbullying in any form will not be tolerated and those that engage in it will face legal consequences. Teachers can enlist the aid of older students to sit with younger students and share their own experiences.
Technology options for a safer online environment
As much as technology facilitates this extreme form of bullying, it also gives you opportunities to prevent it or, at the very least, minimize its effects and impact.
Today’s technology comes with a number of parental controls to help safeguard kids from harmful or inappropriate online material. You can also avail yourself of third-party apps such as Kaspersky Safe Kids, which offers protection from harmful content, as well as enables you to set screen time limits, monitor their online activity, or track their location with GPS.
The digital landscape can be a vast and harsh environment. It is filled with adult content that can be discovered all too easily by curious youngsters. With Kaspersky Safe Kids, you can easily block your children from accidentally (or purposefully) viewing adult content while also ensuring they don’t spend an unhealthy amount of time online.
If you suspect your child is a victim of cyberbullying, don’t wait until it’s too late. Don’t be afraid to broach the subject with your child for fear that they will repel your attempt to help. Cyberbullying affects all types of children, at all levels of society. Campaigns, legislation, school administrative programs, and other movements to recognize and stop cyberbullying are a good first step toward tackling this problem. But only you, as a parent, can directly offer immediate advice and help.