For teenagers, it’s not immediately apparent what they should do in the face of cyberbullying. I know, as an adult you’re yelling inside right now, “Tell your parents!” Yes, obvious to you and me. Not so obvious to them. A little instruction is in order.
[In a survey of 7th and 8th grade students,] only 44 percent indicated that they would tell an adult if they were the victim of cyberbullying. When asked if they had been bullied while online, 10 percent indicated yes.15
An interesting correlation exists between teens who are engaged in cyberbullying (either as a perpetrator or as a victim) and their hesitation to notify adults about online problems.
Unfortunately, those who bullied or were victims said they were less likely to notify adults about Internet bullying than those who were not bullied. Bullies and victims also said their parents were less aware of their Internet activities.16
If I can be bold enough to read between the lines and offer a bit of speculation, I’d say that teenagers who have better relationships with their parents are simultaneously more open with their parents about their online behaviors and consequently less likely to either act out as a cyberbully, or to be involved in relationships with the sorts of kids who tend to cyberbully. I don’t mean that as an absolute statement, but it is my belief that kids with great home situations and strong parental relationships not only cyberbully less but are cyberbullied less as well.
One of the reasons cited for not telling an adult about online problems is the belief that if parents found out, they would restrict Internet access.17 I believe it’s a truism that extreme parental reactions, including pulling the plug on the Internet, are a generally bad idea. If parents believe the Internet is inherently evil, they will tend to overreact, leaving the child to realize that if they want to stay connected with their friends and social structure, they had better keep their problems to themselves and not involve their parents.
As a parent, you should be aware of a number of warning signs. I should point out that if your relationship with your teen is strong, you’ll have a good baseline from which to gauge deviation from the norm. If your relationship is horrible, you really won’t have a baseline from which to judge. That speaks very strongly to the criticality of a healthy relationship with your teen.
A child or teenager may be a victim of cyberbullying if he or she: unexpectedly stops using their computer or cell phone; appears nervous or jumpy when an instant message or email appears; appears uneasy about going to school or outside in general; appears to be angry, depressed, or frustrated after using the computer or cell phone; avoids discussions about what they are doing on the computer or cell phone; or becomes abnormally withdrawn from usual friends and family members.18
The following are guidelines for responses to incidents of cyberbullying and would apply whether your child is a perpetrator or a victim. These tips are part of a longer list written for educators, but adapted here for parents.19
- Don’t dismiss your teen’s concerns about being cyberbullied and don’t dismiss your uneasy fears that your child may be doing inappropriate things online.
- Your reaction should be commensurate with the severity of the incident. Small offenses can be nipped in the bud if addressed early. However, underreaction is as problematic as overreaction. Calibrate your reaction appropriately.
- If a cell phone is involved in the cyberbullying, contact cell phone providers for information and assistance. While they may not be able to release actual text messages without a court order, they will be able to provide you with a record of times and dates of text messages sent or received. Under a court order, cell phone providers will release the contents of text messages.
- Keep all evidence of cyberbullying. Keep a file with screen shots, message logs, or any other evidence. That equips you to deal with law enforcement and other authorities. It also helps you to educate your child after the fact.
- Contact and work with the social network provider or other web environment where the bullying occurred. They generally have experience dealing with cyberbullying cases and can be a resource to assist you in removing offending content, gathering evidence, or putting you in touch with someone who can help.