Cyberbullying and the dangers associated with it

Using technology to bully is far too common and can be very harmful.

Make sure your child knows they can come to you if they or someone they know is bullying or being bullied.
Make sure your child knows they can come to you if they or someone they know is bullying or being bullied.

October is National Bullying Prevention Month, and it is also Cyber-Security Awareness Month. It is an ideal month to bring awareness to cyberbullying and the potential dangers associated with it. The National Crime Prevention Panel identifies cyberbullying as using technology to harass, threaten, embarrass or target another person through technology. Examples could be impersonating someone online or posting personal information, photos or videos designed to hurt another person.

Recent studies have shown that one out of four teens have been the victims of cyberbullying and one out of six have admitted to having cyberbullied someone. The danger is that it can happen 24 hours a day. The constant attacks can make a child feel hurt, humiliated, angry, depressed or even suicidal. The effects can be devastating, according to KidsHealth. Kids can easily become overwhelmed very quickly.

Stop Bullying suggests being aware of what your child (of all ages) is doing online. Have full access to their accounts and periodically review them. They also suggest to “friend” or “follow” them on social media sites or ask another trusted adult to do so.

Many youth are concerned about reporting bullying to an adult. Make sure your child knows they can come to you if they or someone they know is bullying or being bullied. Kids will be more likely to come to you with information if they know they will not lose access to their own cellphones, computers or other technology. Don’t let your child blame themselves for the cyberbullying attacks. It is not their fault. Encourage them to think about the bully as being unhappy and frustrated and who wants them to feel as badly as they do.

Michigan State University Extension recommends the following:

  • Tell kids to keep their passwords safe and think about who they are sharing personal information with.
  • Establish rules about computers, cellphones and other technology.
  • Tell them to not reply to a post or text from a bully, no matter how hurtful or untrue. It will only make the situation worse and the bully is hoping for a reaction from you.
  • Have them save the evidence and show it to a trusted adult such as a parent, other relative, school counselor or teacher. Cyberbullying will only become more aggressive in time.

Cyberbullying is harmful for the following reasons:

  • Cyberbullying behaviors are carried out from a distance and can be instantly broadcasted to a large number of people.
  • Cyberbullying does not require physical strength or face-to-face contact.
  • Messages are sometimes sent anonymously so those targeted have no idea who is responsible. The bully does not have to reveal their true identity.
  • It can happen anywhere at any time, even in places where you normally feel safe such as your home.
  • The bully cannot see your reaction. They will often go much farther in their harassment or ridicule than they would face-to-face.

Kids use technology different than their parents do. Sometimes it is hard for adults to understand that this can even be a possibility. However, bullying, whether through technology or not, is alive and prevalent in our culture. Teach your child to stand strong and bounce back (be resilient) from bullying situations. Talk about safe scenarios that will help them put distance between them and the person doing the bullying. Similar to a bonfire, if you don’t throw gas on the fire, it will eventually burn out. Remember, bullying is a big problem that many children face on a daily basis. It is something to be aware of year round, not just October.

MSU Extension recommends the following resources for signs that your child is being bullied or bullying, how to raise a bully-proof kid, cyberbullying, teaching tolerance and more:

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