Technology has revolutionized daily life, affecting children as much as adults. They have more access to information and communities than ever before. Access can improve their lives but also open the doors to cyberbullying.
This article explains how to talk to your kids about cyberbullying. You’ll learn what it is, how it could affect your child, and how to help them navigate the common experience, no matter how intense it becomes.
What Is Cyberbullying?
People who grew up before dial-up internet access lived in a world where bullies said mean things at school and potentially got into physical fights. When school ended, everyone cooled off at home and got a break from the mean behaviors.
Modern children don’t get that break anymore. Cyberbullying takes verbal insults, gaslighting, and manipulation onto the internet. Kids of all ages encounter it daily at school, home, or anywhere in between.
Where Does Cyberbullying Occur?
Cyberbullying is a pervasive problem for young people because it occurs anywhere on the internet and on any internet-connected device. These are the most likely places your child could deal with bullies online.
On Social Media Sites
A recent report found that 75% of teens use screens for four hours daily, while 41% use them for more than eight hours daily. That’s a nearly continuous feed of comments, threads, and direct messages that could come from cyber bullies.
It’s also important to note that virtual bullies don’t need to know their victims personally to engage in mean behaviors. Sometimes, bullying occurs because a young person is bored or hurting from personal issues unrelated to their victim.
In Gaming Chat Boxes
Most video games have chat boxes to connect users on multiplayer platforms. Cyberbullying can happen through those chat servers by people mocking other players about their identities or physicalities even though the young people can’t see each other.
In Text Messages
Texts often rely on the internet to send sizable media content like bitmap images called GIFS and videos. The mean memes can taunt cyberbullying victims and compound on weeks, months, or years of bullying they’ve also experienced in person at school.
Which Ages Are Most Affected?
Understanding the ages most affected is crucial in understanding how to talk to your kids about cyberbullying. A 2019 survey found that 37% of teens between 12 and 17 had experienced cyberbullying. More frank, in-depth conversations should happen when your child reaches their teen years because it’s more likely to occur during that period and they can handle complicated topics better than elementary school students.
Common Effects of Cyberbullying
Parents can look for these common signs of cyberbullying to identify if their kid is struggling with social problems and needs a helping hand.
1. Degrading Comments or Opinions of Themselves
Everyone gets frustrated with themselves occasionally, but repeated negative self-talk could indicate that your child has cyberbullies. If they never speak positively about their identity, hobbies, skills, or school performance, you may want to ask compassionately why they think those things.
2. Increased Isolation or Secretive Behaviors
When someone gets bullied, they often begin to believe their bully’s lies. Your kid might withdraw from their social life to avoid feeling embarrassed about themselves during or after interactions. Those settings can include family gatherings, meals, or social settings they used to enjoy.
3. Reduced Interest in Hobbies
Bullying can trigger depression in children of any age. A common symptom of depression is a reduced interest in their hobbies. Your kid might stop engaging in sports, crafting, or other creative activities because they lack faith in themselves or don’t see a point in trying anymore.
4. Changes in Eating Patterns
Ongoing changes in eating patterns are some of the effects of cyberbullying parents might not notice. It can link to anxiety or depression instigated by bullies. Keep an eye on how often your child eats and how much food they consume to monitor for potentially developing eating disorders related to cyberbullying about their physical appearance or identity.
5. Infrequent Updates About Their Social Life
Your kid may stop talking about hanging out with their friends at school if they withdraw socially. Cyberbullying could make them afraid of social interactions or cause their friends to step back to save themselves. Bullies gain more power when their victims become isolated, so infrequent updates about friends or social activities indicate that cyberbullying might exist in your child’s life.
6. Changes in Their Appearance
Cyberbullying can have numerous effects on a kid’s physical appearance, even though the interactions are online. Parents should look for red flags in their child, such as:
- Sudden weight loss or weight gain
- Thinning hair from their head, eyebrows, or eyelashes
- Slices on their arms, legs, or wrists
- Unexplained bruises — from hitting themselves when they’re frustrated or when cyberbullying transitions to physical bullying
- Exhaustion ringing their eyes from anxiety-induced insomnia
Young people experience many changes while going through growth spurts and puberty, but these aren’t part of a healthy adolescent aging experience. It’s always a good idea to make an appointment with your family’s pediatrician to ask questions and get their input if you’re unsure about your kid’s health.
Ways to Help Your Child
Now that you’ve read about the effects of cyberbullying, these are a few ways to help your child if you suspect that they’re enduring bullies.
1. Create Safe Spaces for Conversations
Even though parents may believe they know everything about their kids, it isn’t always true. Creating safe spaces with your children is crucial so they know they can talk to you about anything. You’ll learn how to talk to your kids about cyberbullying if the conversations happen frequently and naturally.
2. Help Them Make More Friends
People are less likely to believe belittling insults if their friends form a robust support system around them. Help your child expand their friend group to make cyberbullies less loud by asking them how they want to meet people. They’ll have a better experience if they choose how and when they have social interactions.
3. Explain How You Can Support Them
Kids sometimes stay silent about their cyber bullies because they don’t think anyone can do anything about it. If the bullying gets too intense or transitions to in-person interactions at school, explain how you can contact your child’s teacher or principal. They can schedule a meeting with the bully’s parents to bring the bad behavior into the open.
Explain how the reprimand, shame, and potential punishments could make the bullying less intense or stop it altogether. Your child may just need to hear that actions have consequences to open up and feel supported.
4. Save Proof of Cyberbullying
You’ll likely need to bring proof if you have to meet with your kid’s school or a bully’s parents. Sometimes people don’t want to believe that bullying is happening because they think their child is incapable of being cruel or that cruelty can exist in their school.
Save screenshots of any exchanged messages or mean memes. If you need to step forward to report a bully, you’ll have everything you need to explain your kid’s side of the story.
5. Schedule Appointments With a Therapist
It’s never too early to sign your child up for therapy. A board-certified psychologist will give them the tools to withstand mean interactions, deconstruct insults and support their mental health.
The psychologist can also help with family therapy. They’ll show you how to talk to your kids about cyberbullying, build strong connections, and help your child recognize they aren’t alone in this experience.
Talk About Cyberbullying Today
When parents learn more about cyberbullying, it becomes a manageable problem. Use these tips to talk with your children, recognize warning signs and get them the help they need. Every effort makes life more enjoyable for kids in a digital world and teaches them how to care for their mental health.
Author – Beth is the Managing Editor and content manager at Body+Mind. She is passionate about writing about fitness, diet, fitness, mental health, and parenting. In her spare time, Beth enjoys trying out new fitness routines and recipes.