These are children whose names have become inextricably linked to the issue of cyberbullying. Their pictures and stories have been plastered across newspapers, magazines, YouTube videos, and web memorials denouncing cyberbullies and mourning the victims. Their families have taken their stories public in order to fight this growing trend among adolescents. Although these names represent a minority of victims who committed suicide due, at least in part, to cyberbullying, there is a multitude of other victims whose stories have not been told, children who continue to face cyberbullying everyday. Who is best suited to tell their stories?

Ignore the message. Don’t ignore the problem.

The NetSmartz® Workshop advocates three simple rules for children facing cyberbullies.

  1. Don’t respond to the message.
  2. Save the evidence.
  3. Tell a trusted adult.
Watch the NSTeens video, Terrible tEXt, with your children to see these rules in action.
These rules can prevent cyberbullying from escalating, and can also prevent the victims from becoming cyberbullies themselves. It seems so easy to trade insults over IM, write mean messages on someone’s social networking page, or trash-talk while gaming because children are generally unconcerned with future consequences. Ryan Halligan, Jeffrey Johnston, and Megan Meier are all startling examples of what happens when people do not consider the consequences of their actions.
One vital lesson NetSmartz wants children to learn is to ignore the message, not the problem. As parents, you have an ideal opportunity to step in and encourage children suffering from cyberbullying to speak out and fight this kind of victimization. They are best suited to tell their own stories, and their stories can make a difference.

Educate. Engage. Empower.

Educate your children about cyberbullying.

  • Start a dialogue at home. Make sure your children understand what is considered cyberbullying and what isn’t.
  • Talk about the possible effects and consequences of cyberbullying.
  • Focus on prevention methods they may not have considered, such as not posting personal information or provocative photos that someone could use against them, and not sharing passwords with friends.
Engage them in the fight against cyberbullying.
  • Take it seriously! Sometimes sticks and stones matter, so discuss feelings of guilt or depression resulting from the incident.
  • Explore various ways to handle the situation, including counseling if necessary.
  • Consider enacting a mediation plan utilizing school counselors; the issue may be resolved with a bit of intervention.
Empower them to lead the fight against cyberbullying.
  • Encourage your children to start an awareness group at school or online to educate their peers about cyberbullying.
  • Get the school involved. Just because it happens at home does not mean the school can’t help. Encourage your children to learn about their school’s cyberbullying policy and urge administrators to take a stand against all forms of bullying.
  • Let your children tell you about their experiences online; Internet safety experts can’t tell their stories better than they can.
Some people say that bullying will always happen no matter what you do. That kind of defeatist attitude does not effect change. Cyberbullying has become a serious problem, one that requires parents, educators, and children to take action. Parental instinct tells you to protect your children, but why not empower them to protect themselves and their peers? Let your children lead the fight against cyberbullying; they’re more prepared than you might think.

What to look for: Signs of Cyberbullying

  • Avoids the computer, cell phone, and other technological devices or appears stressed when receiving an e-mail, instant message, or text
  • Withdraws from family and friends, or acts reluctant to attend school and social events
  • Avoids conversations about computer use
  • Exhibits signs of low self-esteem including depression and/or fear
  • Grades begin to decline
  • Lack of eating or sleeping

What to look for: Signs your Child is a Cyberbully

  • Has been involved in bullying incidents at school or has been the target of bullies in the past.
  • Avoids conversations about their computer and cell phone activities
  • Quickly switches screens or closes programs when you walk by the computer
  • Laughs excessively while using the computer or cell phone
  • Uses multiple online accounts, or an account that is not their own
  • Spends an unusual amount of time using the computer or cell phone
  • Becomes upset when access to the computer or cell phone is denied

Start a Discussion with your Children

  • Why do you think people harass or cyberbully?
  • How would harassment make you feel? Have you ever felt that way?
  • Have you ever sent an e-mail, text, or an IM out of anger?
  • How would you react if someone created a fake profile mocking a peer on a social networking site?
  • How can you prevent yourself from being cyberbullied?