How to Prevent Cyberbullying and Deal with Bullies Effectively
By Janine Clements, 21st Century Mama
If you’ve ever been bullied or have a child who’s been bullied, you’ll know how horrible it is. Bullying is defined as: ‘repeated aggressive behavior that is intentional and involves an imbalance of power’, and it can have serious immediate and long-term effects for those involved. It takes place in politics, in the workplace, in Facebook groups, at school and even in families. However, for kids, bullying is most frequently suffered during the middle school years.
A report by the National Center for Education Statistics stated that on average one in five children between the ages of 12 and 18 reported being bullied. This figure is likely much higher, as studies show most victims don’t report it. Bullying mostly occurs in the school building, but it also happens on the playground, on the school bus, in the neighborhood, and increasingly, online.
We’ve put together a comprehensive guide for parents, covering everything from types of bullying, to preventing cyberbullying, to dealing with bullies and bullying.
Types of Bullying
There are four main types of bullying:
- Physical: Includes any sort of violence such as hitting or breaking a child’s belongings
- Verbal: Teasing, name-calling, or threatening to harm another child
- Social: Excluding a child on purpose, spreading rumors about someone, embarrassing a person in public, or telling other kids not to be friends with someone
- Cyberbullying: The newest form of bullying, which includes harassing, threatening, embarrassing, or targeting another child using digital technology, often via social media
The Rise of Cyberbullying
According to research by the Cyberbullying Research Center in 2019, 36.5% of kids aged 12 to 18 said they had been cyberbullied, and the number is unfortunately growing. Cyberbullying can happen via text and email, on social media platforms, in gaming communities and in online forums. It’s more likely to happen to girls than boys, and as most kids have phones and other devices, it can be hard to get away from or avoid. The effects of bullying in any form can be devastating.
Common Forms of Cyberbullying
There are several main types of cyberbullying:
- Harassment: Sending threatening, mean, or harmful messages to another child online
- Exclusion: Deliberately leaving a kid out of group messages or purposefully posting photos of a party they weren’t invited to and tagging them
- Outing/Doxing: Sharing revealing or confidential information about someone else without permission, in order to embarrass or humiliate them
- Catfishing: Creating a fake profile and using it to cyberbully someone else
- Fraping: Taking over someone else’s social media account and making them look bad by posting extreme images or content
- Cyberstalking: Being obsessed with another child and harassing or giving them unwanted attention online
How to Prevent Cyberbullying
Most schools have anti-bullying policies. Teachers and school administrators are trained to spot bullying and deal with bullies, and there are special programs they incorporate about preventing bullying for students and parents. However, because cyberbullying generally happens outside school, school employees are often reluctant to intervene. Law enforcement also won’t usually get involved, unless a crime has actually been committed. More can be done within the community to prevent cyberbullying. There are several useful government-sponsored websites including StopBullying.gov and PromotePrevent.org that can be helpful.
Here are some tips to take to prevent cyberbullying:
Keep Younger Children Off of Social Media
Apps such as Instagram and Tik-Tok have a minimum age of 13 for a reason. Younger children are not able to deal with social media and the content is often not age-appropriate. Parenting expert and best-selling author Dr. Laura Markham recommends keeping children off these apps for as long as possible.
Educate Your Kids About Online Behavior
When it comes to preventing cyberbullying, teach your child about the importance of acting responsibly online, whether they’re texting, emailing or using social media. This includes being careful about the personal content they post and never forwarding messages, videos or anything else that is unkind or could hurt someone else. Dr. Markham also advises that kids should avoid sharing passwords. If they fall out with someone, the other person could hack their accounts.
Encourage Kids to Speak Up
Coach your child on how to recognize cyberbullying and on the importance of stepping in and telling someone they trust If they see someone else getting cyberbullied.
Monitor Phones and Other Devices
Another way of preventing cyberbullying is to be aware of what your kids are doing online. Check their privacy and content settings, regularly monitor text messages, and follow them on social media accounts, at least until you feel you can trust your child to act responsibly. There are several good digital monitoring apps and software programs including Bark and Disney Circle.
Schedule Tech-free Time
Kids spend so much time on phones, computers and other devices, and it’s often unsupervised, so make sure your kids get a break from their devices every day. Apps such as Screen Time make this easier. You could keep computers out of bedrooms or have a tech-free bedroom rule after a set time.
How to Spot Cyberbullying
Cyberbullying can be hard to notice and kids often won’t tell adults they’re being bullied because they might feel helpless, think something is wrong with them, or worry it could make things worse.
Telltale signs that could indicate your child is being cyberbullied include:
- Being on devices a lot more or a lot less than usual
- Increased anger, sadness or stress, especially after being on their device
- Hiding devices when a parent is near
- Refusing to talk about what they are doing online
- Having trouble sleeping
- Complaining about headaches and feeling sick
- Not wanting to go to school
- Lower grades than usual
- Avoiding seeing friends or going to social gatherings
- Becoming withdrawn
- Lower self-esteem
How to Help Your Child Deal with Bullies
As a parent, you can’t prevent other kids from being mean to your kiddo, but you can teach them awareness. Then, if your child gets bullied, they’ll recognize what’s happening and have the tools to stand up for themselves. Whether your child is being cyberbullied or bullied in other ways, the same rules apply.
Keep Communication Channels Open
When it comes to how to deal with bullies in school, Dr. Markham suggests listening to your child every day from an early age. If you make sure they know it’s okay to ask for help if they ever get bullied, they will hopefully feel comfortable coming to you. Think about how to be as approachable as possible, so try to focus on being helpful and supportive, not critical or dismissive.
If you find out your child is being bullied, the chances are your immediate reaction is to get straight on the phone to the other child’s parents or meet them face-to-face. However, when it comes to dealing with bullies, neither option is helpful for your child. Instead, it could make things worse. Dr. Markham recommends first getting your emotions in check before doing anything. Consider what options make the most sense and will be most effective.
Listen and Empathize
Another way to deal with bullying is to make sure your child knows it’s okay to ask for help if it happens to them. If they tell you they’re being bullied, listen and empathize. It’s also important to reassure them that they are safe, and you are there for them no matter what.
If a child is being bullied, rather than telling them what to do, empower them by brainstorming options together, whether it’s resolving the situation themselves, involving the school psychologist, or something else. This will make them feel more in control.
Practice Responses to Different Scenarios
One way of working out how to deal with a bully is by roleplaying. Dr. Markham suggests that because bullies look for a negative emotional reaction, it’s important not to get upset. Instead, your child can practice being assertive. They could laugh off when being called names, for example. They should also know to leave the site or scene and call for help if they are being threatened or are in physical danger.
When to Get Help for Dealing with Bullying
If a student is bullying your child at school or online, and it is escalating or starts affecting them, then it’s important to report it to the school and to the authorities, as appropriate.