Cyberbullying Among Our Kids: What You Need to Know


Twenty years ago, it was pretty easy for parents and educators to know who was being bullied and who was responsible for it. Now it's not so easy, since kids of all ages are connected via cellphones, instant messaging, Facebook and Twitter. If nothing is ever said, parents can very well raise their kids to adulthood and never know that their child was the victim of cyberbullying.

How Cyberbullying Affects Children

Only recently has cyberbullying been getting massive amounts of attention, in part due to several cases of suicide in which the victims had been cyberbullied by peers. All kinds of bullying can cause self-esteem and self-worth issues, which causes some kids to go into depression and inflict harm on themselves as a coping mechanism.

Keep an open dialogue with your children. Even if you don't think they are at risk for bullying, start a conversation about what to do if they or someone they know is bullying or being bullied. Often, teens aren't directly affected by the harassment but don't know what to do when they see it happening to a classmate or online. Encourage them to talk to you or another adult they trust. Let them know they are not alone.

The Rise of Anti-Bullying Legislation

Forty-nine states have anti-bullying laws, with the 2011 implementation of New Jersey's Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights being among the most strict. According to the Miami Herald, Florida is working on legislation that enables school officials to discipline students who take part in bullying electronically.

While such laws force schools and administrators to take cyberbullying seriously by imposing policies and procedures, those against the new laws say you can't legislate against normal childish behavior. They also argue that there's little evidence that these laws will reduce bullying and that, according to Think Progress, it is being used to promote various agendas.

Regardless of what laws pass, pay attention to signs that you child is being harassed in school or online. Withdrawal, exclusion, aversion to social situations and social media are signs that something could be wrong. Don't corner your child, but encourage him or her to open up to you. If need be, monitor their online behavior and alert parents or school authorities if anything is amiss.

How Parents Can Prevent Bullying

It's just as possible for your child to be the bully as it is for them to be the victim. Spend one-on-one time with your kids and talk about the dangers that come from saying hurtful words to their classmates and what should be done if they are on the receiving end.

Limit the amount of time your kids use technology and monitor their online activities. Having a cellphone and Facebook account is a privilege for kids, not a right. Foster an open relationship with your children, especially during the reclusive teen years, and demonstrate love and kindness in the home. You want your kids to feel comfortable sharing their troubles and to feel valued.

Keep the lines of communication open between other parents and educators, as well. Do not hesitate to contact them—it may stop harmful behavior before it escalates to a level which requires legal action. Even if it means being what your kids might consider "mean," taking the proper precautionary measures may prevent your child from being on either side of cyberbullying.

Blog authored by Diane Flanagan