How to detect cyberbullying and its victim or perpetrator
The world is changing and people are changing too. Bullying that was earlier considered an obligatory part of growing up is not considered a norm anymore. Instead of being touted as ‘a rite of passage’ that makes a person tougher, bullying is today taken at its face value, namely, as a kind of disruptive behavior. Correspondingly, attitudes to bullying also change, and this behavior is disapproved and stopped whenever it is detected. That’s good news.
Now a bit of more gloomy news. As a new means of communication appear, so bullying finds its way into them and mutates to find new victims. Internet as a channel that connects the world invited bullies to pick on their victims online. New apps that streamline information exchange and groups making provide perfect breeding grounds for those who like hurting others. Teens are especially prone to bullying and are experts in turning web tools into weapons to harm those more vulnerable. This is why cyberbullying, i.e., bullying via the Internet and all related tools and apps, have become almost a household name. So, more and more resources are dedicated to questions on how to deal with cyberbullying and how to stop it for good.
Although the unanimous social consensus on its unacceptability and total disapproval of it is required to tip the existing global attitude to cyberbullying as a petty affair, every parent, guardian or caring adult can make their contribution and probably safe kids’ lives. In the USA alone, every fourth kid has experienced or will experience some kind of online or real bullying. In the most dreadful cases, a bullied victim may take his or her life, and such cases are investigated and persecuted legally. But more often, cyberbullying is about humiliating and making someone feel powerless, and doing so in the virtual public space. That’s the primary goal of a bully. When someone feels down, a bully feels up and empowered.
Reasons for bullying are hosted in a bully’s mind. A victim is never guilty of being bullied. But any specific characteristic of a kid or teen can become a target of bullying. Race, religion, looks, hair, freckles, income level, clothing, social standing – anything can trigger bullying. Changing anything does not make a difference – a bully will find some other hook to tease the victim. No one is safe against it. So the only way out is to stop a bully on his or her tracks, but to do so, adults need to learn to detect bullying because victims are often teased or threatened into complete silence.
So read the pieces of advice that we compiled on how to deal with cyberbullying with regard to the experience of psychologists, counselors, and students. We hope that you will not need to use them but better be prepared and alert for the sake of the well-being of a child you care about.
Red signals of cyberbullying
The first signs of being bullied and cyberbullied include abrupt interruption of communication with family or friends.
A teen or kid may be a victim of bullying if:
- He or she avoids talking to family members;
- Loses interest in communicating with friends, whether in real life or online;
- Loses interest or is unwilling to communicate with classmates.
The next point is the loss of interest or fear of devices and social media. Most probably, something bad is happening to a teen if:
- He or she tries to hide the phone or screen of a PC from you and does not want you to see what’s happening in his or her accounts;
- Receives phone calls or skype calls from unidentified persons;
- Tries to stay away from devices although earlier was an eager user;
- shows depressed mood or anxiety after using devices;
- Wants to or deletes social media accounts altogether.
Finally, the situation is absolutely serious and threatening to a kid if:
- He/she show permanent changes in mood towards anxiety or depression;
- Loses sleep and appetite;
- Shows signs of decrease in self-esteem, self-worth, is irritated or restless;
- School grades decline as well;
- Refuses to go to school, to meet friends, in the worst cases may mention thoughts of suicide.
When the majority of these signs go together, it is high time you ring the alarm and start taking measures to protect your kid.
Key to tackling the problem: talk to your child
Since kids and teens carefully protect their online lives and identities from adults, it is necessary that you maintain trusting relations with your kid. It will help if you need to persuade a kid to let you into the chats, messengers, and other ‘private spaces’ of online communication. This is the basis for helping your kid. No matter what, he or she should know they can rely on you and find help, not rejection.
But what if you are an average parent with little time to spend on cuddly evenings and open talks with your kid (and the majority of us are, being busy with breadwinning and running the household)?
Then it is high time you put your affairs aside and talk to your kid now, talk friendly and non-judgmentally like you would talk to a friend. Basically, all you have to do is to listen attentively, hold back your emotions till better times, and to show your kid the complete support. You may try to guide the chat with some questions, but make it easy. It is not an investigation of a crime where your kid is a suspect; it is an attempt to help.
Whatever you hear, do not panic. Say your kid that you understand his or her pain or fear and that you stand by your kid. Say that bullying is a real problem, and you together will work out the way how to deal with cyberbullying. Mention that it is never a kid’s fault; the blame is always on a bully. Try to restore the self-worth of a kid, explain that many other people went through the same experience, and even the most famous celebs have been bullied in their childhood (which is true). Accept everything the kid is willing to say so that you knew more about what’s going on and how to deal with it.
Now what? How do I react?
This is the second trickiest part. Usually, the advice is not to panic, not to take rush steps, and so on. But the truth is, often, the situation escalates rapidly up to the irreversible consequences, and sometimes it is better to overreact than underreact.
- Clarify if bullying happens online only (that’s comparatively less dangerous) or something happens in real life as well. If the bullying has spilled into real life, contact school authorities, team coach, or even the police. If someone is stalking the child, contact the police immediately. It is easy to say that harsh measures against bullies can make a kid even more distanced from their peers. But if the whole kid/teen community is crashing down on your kid or ousts him/her, then it is high time you move the kid to another school and cut ties with this group altogether, since this community is problematic and needs treatments of professionals. Or else: the threat of real punishment often shuts down the bullying altogether.
- If everything happens in an online environment, you have more time for consideration, but the algorithm will be the same. Clarify all details. Do it with a cold head. Read through bad messages, chats, posts, or listen to what the kid explains (sometimes cyber bullying is shaped as deliberate discussing/tagging kids in posts or groups that are closed to them, so no one knows what is said there).
- It is hard to determine if you should involve someone else because you do not know what the reaction of that person will be. If you want to do it, ensure that this person is trustworthy and will not make a laughingstock of you as well as your kid.
- The first advice on how to deal with cyberbullying is to ignore everything that is sent via online media. The absence of reaction discourages bullies since they seek attention and suffering, not bland ignoring. But.
- The next immediate step is to cut the channel of bullying once the first negative comment/message is received. Block that person on devices, report their messages or posts as spam or abuse. Facebook and Twitter now have policies in place to prevent bullying, specifically. Use those tools.
- Just before blocking, make copies or screenshots of abusive content. You may need to show it as a proof of bullying, should official investigation begin.
- Do not insist that social media accounts of a kid be closed. This is the ultimate goal of cyberbullies. Instead, limit the circle of friends and disable comments for everyone except few trusted people. In this way, a kid will remain socialized but will not ‘meet’ bullies.
- Become a ‘friend’ of a kid on the social. If necessary, set up a special account so that it was not obvious you are a parent. Read what happens on the kid’s account, but do not disclose who you are by comments. Go easy on harmless fun and some borderline jokes (you kid is growing up to become an adult, after all), but be alert to signs that your kid is being bullied – or probably bullies others.
- If necessary, ask your kid not to access temporarily the resources where he or she is bullied. Control what resources he or she uses. It is to ensure that kids do not read stuff that hurts them. Some teens compulsively check their newsfeed or messengers, and only you can curb this habit a bit. It sounds cruel, we know, but sometimes it is the only way to protect your kid. Obligatorily explain to your kid what you are doing and why, why you use parental control, and promise gravely that this is a temporary measure only.
- If you find out that an adult is involved in bullying or stalking, report to the police and be alert to who appears at your front door or in your neighborhood. Take your kid to school and back. Things can turn the wrong way really fast.
- What now? Now think whether you will contact bullies’ parents or school authorities, or both. It is hardly possible that bullying will stop by itself, but it is possible, too.
- Now the trickiest part. It is often advised that you grow resilience in your kid so that he/she can stand up to bullying. But people are different. Very few of us can take abuse and retain emotional balance, or not fall into depression. Bullying in adult relations is considered abuse, but for kids, the advice is to ‘shake it off.’ Totally unreasonable. Contact school counsel, psychologists, principal, DoMyWriting or a teacher your kid trusts. Together you can take actions that make bullies look silly or unwelcome. That’s what they fear. A strong reaction of adults can effectively stop the abuse. Regarding potential isolation from peers and ‘not punishment’ for bullies – think of it in adult terms. Then translate it into your situation. It is all that serious, just happens to your kid. By telling a kid to be strong, we promote bullying as the norm. Instead, we should outlaw bullying by all means possible. That’s the key. If the environment is so unwelcoming, it should be traded for a more beneficial one. Life is not a prison, so show it to your kids.
Prevention is better than treatment: rules of online security
Can you prevent bullying of your child online? It is hard to predict who and how they will attempt to do it. The older generation was growing in the real world, face-to-face, and younger generations have to navigate a virtual environment that sometimes even adults cannot harness and use responsibly. The blame lies on a bully, always, that’s the truth. But teach your kids precautions of using the web safely, so that they did not provide additional tools for potential bullies or stalkers.
Hope what we have written explains how to deal with cyberbullying (and that it is deadly serious). Kids are people with feelings, dignity, and fears, just like you. Take them seriously. Sometimes one or two steps you take in time can prevent a disaster or make your kid’s life happier and safer. That’s probably what we all want for our kids. Keep them safe online!