What to Do if You Suspect Cyberbullying

Cyberbully fist coming out of computer monitor.

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 cyberbullying? 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. That’s why it is important to know what to do if you suspect cyberbullying.

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 the signs of cyberbullying.

Common Forms of Cyberbullying

Bullies use text messaging to harass victims from a distance. The bully may even copy his or her entire address book to spread rumors or embarrassing images.

Online forums such as 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. The information we’ve gathered below can help you equip your kids to navigate safely in most online situations.

Handling Cyberbullies

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Protect your child and get help. Tell your child never to agree to meet anyone in person. If the bullying is occurring through chat, instant messaging, or text messaging, contact the proper authorities. Often, a cyberbully can be blocked from those sites or from your telephone number. If your child is threatened with physical harm, inform the local police immediately.

Implementing Cyberbullying Prevention

It’s vital to teach your kids cyber-safe techniques to make things difficult for a cyberbully. Remind children not to give out personal information online. Encourage your child to avoid exchanging email addresses or phone numbers with anyone online without your permission. A bully has a hard time targeting your child if he or she doesn’t have any ammunition.

If you allow your child to use social networking sites like Facebook, learn about safety tips provided by the site. 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). 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.

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.

Netiquette

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 as follows:

  • 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 it could be seen as offensive, 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.

Taking action to raise cyberbullying awareness and awareness of internet safety is the best way you can help your family navigate the online world safely. We hope you will use this information to talk to your kids about cyberbullying—and to keep the dialogue going!

To learn how you can educate your child at home and be more involved in your child’s learning through online public school, visit the Connections Academy website. Or to learn about online private school, visit Pearson Online Academy ’s website.

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