These days, it's difficult to find anyone, young or old, without personal ties to the world-wide web. Your kids may chat with their friends online more than they chat in person. And you may even have a Facebook profile too—much to your teen's dismay. While online connections are often a harmless way to stay in touch, cyberbullying statistics reveal a darker side to the Internet. It has become a place where kids can be ruthless with words, and even torment each other, protected by online aliases and the lack of any authority who's responsible to intervene. Even children that are technically too young to participate are affected by online bullying; a May 2011 study by Consumer Reports indicates that 7.5 million U.S. Facebook users are under the age of 13, the age cutoff for the popular social site.
If you think cyberbullying doesn't affect your child, think again. A survey by i-Safe Inc., an independent e-safety firm, found 58 percent of children reported that someone has said something mean or hurtful to them online, and one in four have had it happen more than once. The numbers are clear: most kids have faced some type of cyberbullying.
Kids sometimes stay hush-hush about bullying to parents, so it's important that you look for telltale signs. Julie Emmer, Director of Outpatient and Clinical Education Services for Seminole Behavioral Healthcare, warns parents that changes in their child's behavior, including depression, new anxieties or a reluctance to use the computer could be red flags of online harassment. Pay attention to your child's behavior, and talk to her if you notice bullying victim symptoms.
In 2010, Phoebe Prince took her life at age 15 after being severely bullied online by a group of students at her high school, making her the most recent in a slew of high-profile suicides stemming from bullying incidents. Victims who survive the online ridicule often suffer from severe depression, panic attacks and other stress-induced consequences later in life.
When it comes to cyberbullying, it's often the victims who rightfully get the most attention. However, pinpointing perpetrators' motives could shed light on why children tease each other. i-Safe points out that 53 percent of kids have said something mean or hurtful to someone else online, meaning more than half have participated in online bullying. Chances are, your child has too.
It's hard to catch your kid in the act since much of cyberbullying is done anonymously. The anonymity afforded by the Internet makes kids often feel bolder, acting out in ways in cyberspace that they never would in the real world. Watching for signs that your teen is a bully gives you a better idea of her online activities. According to Emmer, an online bully typically has a hot temper, has superiority issues, struggles with conflict resolution and spends time with peers who also bully.
If Your Child is the Victim
- Monitor her online activities. Armed with cyberbullying statistics and information, bring up the subject with your kid. If she's being bullied online she might feel embarrassed or awkward, so try asking the right questions. Ask her what websites she visits and if you can check them out too. If she doesn't want you to see her online actions, it's a red flag.
- Help her make new friends through other avenues. "If possible, get your kid involved early in overlapping social circles or a variety of activities so that their sense of social stock is not tied to one particular group or one activity," suggests Dr. Jerry Weichman, clinical psychologist and adolescent specialist of the Hoag Neurosciences Institute.
- Involve the proper authorities, if necessary. If the taunting escalates from a few mean words to constant harassment (35 percent of kids have been threatened online, according to i-Safe) it's time to involve law enforcement. While anonymous bullying can be difficult to track, helping your child find and save any online correspondence with a bully gives you the information you need to end it. Contacting the administration of some websites to report abuse and have the users banned is another option.
If Your Child is the Bully
- Move your computer to a central location. If your child's the perpetrator, it's a difficult position for you as a parent. You want to protect her but also make the bullying stop. One of the best ways to monitor your child or teen's behavior is to move her computer to a central, non-private location in your home so she doesn't have the luxury of using the computer without you peeking over her shoulder.
- Sign up for accounts on the sites she frequents. Check out the sites your child visits and sign up for accounts yourself with or without her knowledge. Keep an eye on how she interacts with other users and talk to her if you notice unacceptable or threatening behavior.
- Talk to your child about the consequences of her actions. She might not realize that being part of a flame war on a forum or making fun of a status on Facebook is hurtful and even punishable by law. If the bullying continues, consider it a sign that she's not mature enough to use the Internet responsibly, and take away her online priveledges.
Whether you're the parent of the bully or the bullied, it's in your power to stop the behavior and protect your child. By keeping tabs on your child's online behavior and the latest cyberbullying statistics, you'll know what's going on in the world of Facebook, MySpace and Twitter to react appropriately. Getting in tune with your teen's online habits now can save the hurt, shame, and punishment that stem from cyberbullying.