Understanding Cyberbullying: How to Protect Your Child

If you have been bullied at some point in your life, then you know how distressing it can be. Today, thanks to the increasing advancements in technology, bullying is more common than ever. Mobile devices and social media platforms have left our kids susceptible to being bullied online.

In the past, bullying took the form of shoves in the hallways, harsh words on the playground, or notes passed in the study hall. Now it can be done anonymously from anywhere and by anyone.

What is Cyberbullying?

Cyberbullying is simply bullying that happens through online platforms. It can take the form of text messages, photos, emails, or even videos. The goal of cyberbullying is to demean, intimidate, harass or taunt another person with the aim of embarrassing or hurting them. 

How to Tell If Your Kid is Being Cyberbullied

Most parents are concerned about their kid’s behaviour online. However, not every negative online experience is due to cyberbullying. It is normal for the youth to be unkind to each other during adolescence as they learn about their social life.

For online interactions to be considered cyberbullying, they must have the same characteristics as face-face bullying, which includes repeated aggression, intention to harm, or a perceived or real imbalance of power.

Since one cannot read another person’s intention while interacting online, it can be difficult to determine whether an incident meets these criteria. Knowing what to look out for can help parents to protect their children and enable the children to know what signs to be cautious of when interacting online. These signs include:

  • Unexplained physical injuries.
  • Damaged, misplaced or lost belongings.
  • Changes in group activities and academic performance.
  • Self-destructive behaviour.
  • Insomnia, negative mood changes, or appetite problems.
  • Stealing money from family and friends.
  • Secrecy around computer accounts or mobile devices.
  • Being reluctant to attend school, calling in sick, etc.

Which Kids Bully?

Any kid can become a bully. According to a seven-year study, the majority of children bully their peers during their time in school. While many of them stop as they grow older, some do not. Kids who bully their peers consistently learn to use their power to harm and control others. This behavioural pattern can go into adulthood.

To make matters worse, even the kids who bully others can also become victims of bullying. Kids who perpetrate bullying and those who are victimized are at a higher risk of mental health problems.

Why Do Kids Bully?

At this point, you may be wondering, “what should I do if my child is a cyberbully.”

Kids bully for various purposes. Some want peer acceptance while others want to achieve high social status. Bullying is a successful way to achieve social dominance when used along with prosocial behaviour such as sharing, helping and cooperating with others.

A kid’s pro-social behaviour helps change their bullying behaviour when they establish their dominance. Such kids have high social skills and are popular among their peers.

There is also another group of people who bully others but do not succeed to raise their social status. Their aggressive behaviour towards others is often over-reactive. Such kids are most likely to develop behavioural and mental health issues.

Kids who perpetrate bullying are not the same. Parents and teachers need to respond to these two groups differently when addressing their bullying behaviour.

For the first group, they need to be taught how to use pro-social behaviour to achieve their desired social status. The later needs support so they can establish and maintain positive relationships with other kids.

Behaviour of Cyberbullies

Most parents can’t accept the idea that their child could be a cyberbully. Even bullies don’t think that about themselves.

Many of them think that bullying online is fun. The humour comes from thinking that the victim deserved to be bullied.

But there are behaviours associated with bullies in general that can help parents determine whether their kid is engaged in cyberbullying. They include:

  • Unexplained money or new belongings.
  • Excessive competitiveness.
  • Aggressive behaviour.
  • Obsession with social popularity.
  • Supporting the behaviour of other bullies.

How to Protect Your Kid from Cyberbullying?

You need to be extra vigilant to protect your child from cyberbullying. Here are some of the things you can do:

  •  Discuss with your kid what cyberbully is.
  • Advise them on what to do if they suspect someone is being bullied online.
  • Encourage them to tell you or someone they trust if they get a threatening message.
  • Reassure them that you won’t have their smartphone or computer confiscated for this.