What to Do if You Suspect Cyberbullying
Most of us are familiar with the stereotypical schoolyard bully, but bullies don’t limit themselves just to school playgrounds. With the growth in online communications, cyberbullies can now use email, text messaging, chat rooms, and other online forums to harass others. Has your child been subjected to cyberbulling? If so, would he or she tell you about it?
Cyberbullying affects everyone—the victim, the bully, and even bystanders. Oftentimes it’s difficult for children to talk about it or ask for help.
It’s hard to imagine that your child can be bullied without the bully being physically present. However, written words can have damaging effects. It is important that you and your child recognize and ultimately avoid these cyberbullying techniques:
- Flame mail—Abusive email designed to enrage, normally copying the message to other people in order to create a spectacle. Flame mail is frequently used along with hate mail that shows racism, sexism, or other prejudices.
- Text messages—Bullies use text messaging to harass victims from a distance. As with flame mail, the bully may even copy his or her entire address book to spread rumors or embarrassing images.
- Online forums—Bulletin boards, chat rooms, and social networking sites are used to publicize disparaging comments and humiliate the target. Some cyberbullies even build websites dedicated to tormenting the targeted individual.
iSafe.org, a nonprofit organization dedicated to educating and empowering youth to safely and responsibly use information and communications technologies, has developed several programs to raise awareness about Internet safety. Here are some of their recommendations to help deal with cyberbullies, play it safe online, and be good cybercitizens.
A child’s psyche is fragile during the early childhood and adolescent years, and a direct attack from a cyberbully can have disastrous effects. Here are some guidelines to help stop the cyberbully:
- First and foremost, teach your child how important it is to tell a trusted adult immediately if he or she is being harassed, rather than keeping it a secret.
- Next, do not engage the bully. Tell your kids not to open or read a cyberbully’s messages. Your child may be curious, and defending himself or herself is a natural reaction. However, responding to the bully only perpetuates the torment. If the bullying is associated with your school, report it to authorities at the school.
- If advances persist, keep all messages to document the bully’s actions. Instruct your child to save the messages in a separate folder for easy access.
- Protect your child and get help. Tell your child to never agree to meet anyone in person. If the bullying is occurring through chat, instant messaging, or text messaging, contact the proper authorities. Often, a bully can be blocked from those sites or from your telephone number. If your child is threatened with physical harm, inform the local police immediately.
Implement some of these cyber-safe techniques to make things difficult for a cyberbully:
- Don’t give out personal information. Encourage your child to avoid exchanging email addresses or phone numbers with anyone online without your permission. Always double-check your child’s privacy settings so only people in his or her contact list can send a message, call, or send an instant message (IM). A bully has a hard time targeting your child if he or she doesn’t have any ammunition.
- Have your child delete messages from people he or she doesn’t know or that seem angry or mean. Bullying can’t occur if it’s not allowed to start.
- Tell your kids to use their instincts while on the Internet and immediately end any interaction that seems suspicious. If something doesn’t seem right, it probably isn’t.
- If you allow your child to use social networking sites like Facebook, learn about safety tips provided by the site.
- Monitor your kids’ online interactions. Common Sense Media makes it easy with concrete, age-appropriate advice. Visit http://www.commonsensemedia.org/cyberbullying for more information.
One of the best defenses against cyberbullying is using netiquette—that is, etiquette on the Internet. Some netiquette tips to discuss with your child are:
- Display good manners. Encourage your child to use the same manners online that are expected at home. Be polite, and others will tend to do the same.
- Think twice before you write. If your child keeps a low profile online, the chances of cyberbullying will be lower.
- Words have power; use them wisely. When communicating online, the person on the other end of the conversation doesn’t have the benefit of visual cues, such as facial expressions, to help interpret the intended meaning. Consider these tips to help ensure that you’re understood:
- Think about the subject line and message when writing emails, and whether the content could offend the recipient. If so, rewrite it.
- Using all capital letters is considered yelling in online dialogues. Use all capital letters in moderation.
- The tone of your conversation should be calm.
- Don’t use offensive language or call someone names.
- Take turns talking. Don’t flood the chat room with repeated messages or gibberish. This will impede conversation between others.
- Use emoticons—icons that represent emotions—to help express feelings in writing and prevent misinterpretation of the tone of your message.
Talk to your kids about cyberbullying. And please share any other tips you have found effective for avoiding and dealing with cyberbullies.