A Guide to Keeping Your Kids Safe From Cyberbullying

May 28 . 6 m

Cyberbullying

Have you ever walked into your child’s room and have them hide their phone or close their computer screen? Sometimes, the secrecy can be alarming. Moreover, the lockdown forced kids to follow their lessons online and spend extended time in front of a screen. These digital devices provided an opportunity for some under the anonymous cloak of the internet to harass others. As a result, we saw a considerable jump in cases of cyberbullying. So, when is respecting your child’s privacy more important than protecting them from the dangers online?

The worldwide web provides us with answers to almost every question, not to mention endless hours of entertainment. Nevertheless, for every positive thing that the internet contributes, there is a darker side that we must be aware of.  Anonymous threats lurk in almost every corner.

What is Cyberbullying?

Cyberbullying is a form of bullying that happens through digital technologies. It can occur on a mobile device via SMS. Furthermore, online on social media platforms, chat rooms, or games where multiple people can play or share content. A cyberbully will target someone and send hurtful messages, threats, or post photos on a public forum designed to embarrass or cause hurt. These bullies can be relentless in their pursuit, and the humiliation can be overwhelming for the victim.

What Does Cyberbullying Look Like?

I am sure we can all relate to the “sticks and stones, may break my bones but names will never hurt me”! A lyric that many homes would find familiar. And for years, it was almost a “safety net” because when kids left school or the surroundings of their bully, they could be “safe” from the harassment. However, teens and even younger kids are online more than ever. In fact, texting, gaming, and using social media are among the top ways they communicate with others. These activities present more opportunities for bullies to pounce. While there are a number of ways to bully online, the majority of harassment falls into the below categories:

1. Impersonation:

This can be done in several ways. From setting up social media channels and posting hurtful or shameful content online to simply pretending to be a person in an attempt to “catfish” another.

2. Harassment:

Notably the most common as it can happen in many different forms. Harassment can occur via text or over social media and include nasty comments, name-calling, rumors, and sharing embarrassing information about other people. In serious cases, they can even take on a threatening form.

3. Embarrassing or Inappropriate Photographs:

The growing demand and advancements in technology, particularly smartphones, meant that people had fewer places to “hide”.  Nowadays, people post what they have for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Likewise, you act the clown in an attempt to be funny, and people document it. It is the society we live in. Bullies take it that step further and use these images as clout. Unfortunately, these images take the form of rude and degrading ones, and at times, and are posted online for everyone to see.

4. Website / Online Channels:

Although less common, the creation of online channels such as blogs or websites can happen. Through these channels, cyberbullies post inappropriate photos or add humiliating or insulting information about their victim.

5. Video Shaming:

Similar to images, people now video embarrassing moments and share them online. However, there is also something we call cyber-baiting. It is where bullies will create an incident, causing their victim to become upset or emotional, and they record it for all to see.

How Does Cyberbullying Affect the Victim?

A victim of cyber attacks can feel sad, angry, humiliated, helpless, and isolated. Those feelings usually cause the child to withdraw, avoid people, places, and activities that previously interested them. With no semblance of a real safe space, those affected by cyberbullying end up with low self-esteem. Their mental health is at risk to issues like anxiety, stress, and depression.

How can you Protect your Children?

If you haven’t already spoken to your children about online bullying and ways to use the internet safely, do it as soon as possible. Kids are becoming more and more tech-savvy and have their own devices at an increasingly young age. If you are letting your child use the internet, it is up to you to show them how to be safe.

Educate yourselves on the apps they are using, and talk to them about safe behaviour online. More importantly, discuss the effects and repercussions of bullying and public humiliation.

Helpful tips to help keep your kids safe online:

  • Monitor their activities: Keep the online activities limited to a centralised area within the home. This way, you can supervise what they are doing and the sites that they are visiting.
  • Keep strong and secure passwords: Ensure that your children aren’t sharing their personal information or passwords. See that they are stored safely or written down somewhere that they cannot be found. Also, make it a rule that if your child wishes to maintain social media accounts, that you know the user names and passwords to their accounts.
  • Report: Whether they are on the receiving end of the bullying messages or witness someone else sending hurtful words, encourage your children to alert an adult. Assure your children that they won’t get into trouble. Bullying is dangerous, and the harassment usually doesn’t stop without reporting it. 
  • Evidence: If your child is a victim of cyberbullying, do not delete the messages. Having proof of the bullying and its severity will be necessary should you decide to report it to the school or authorities.
  • Balance: A European study confirmed that children are online for double the amount of time since 2010, so it’s up to us to make sure that there is a healthy balance. Set a rule for a certain amount of time after school for online activities, then call for a digital-free afternoon.
  • The internet is forever: The internet is a public forum and what gets uploaded to the internet stays online. The images are easy to copy and share at any time. Furthermore, those same images can be an issue for you later in life. So, if you don’t want the world to see something, don’t share it.
  • Choose your net friends wisely: New users are stoked when friend requests come flooding in. Add that to the desire to increase their post likes, tweens tend to accept all requests. This can open their network to internet trolls and unsavory characters posing as youths.

Takeaway

According to an American study in 2020, 76.7% of tweens and 82% of teens experienced bullying online. Moreover, 70.9% of tweens and 87.9% of teens encountered nudity or content of a sexual nature. While it’s nearly impossible to monitor all of their online activities, talking to them and encouraging open communication can help.

If you are being bullied, want to help a victim of cyberbullying, or want to report unlawful content online, contact the local authorities, or contact the Gardai here.

 

WRITTEN BY

Zoe Theofilou