The dangers of cyberbullying
How do you keep your kids safe from cyberbullying?
October is National Bullying Prevention Month and it is also National Cybersecurity Awareness Month. It is an ideal month to bring awareness to cyberbullying and the potential dangers associated with it. According to Stobbullying.gov, cyberbullying is 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. The Cyberbullying Research Center defines it as “willful and repeated harm inflicted through the use of computers, cell phones, and other electronic devices.”
The Pew Research Center cites that 60% of teen girls survey and 59% of teen boys surveyed had experienced at least one of six online abusive behaviors including name calling, spreading false rumors, physical threats, constant asking of where they are or what they are doing, receiving unsolicited explicit images and having explicit images of them shared without their consent. Forty percent of teens said they had experienced two or more of these behaviors.
Cyberbullying differs from face-to-face bullying in several ways including that it is persistent, permanent and hard to notice. With the use of technology and the ability to communicate across distance 24 hours a day, cyberbullying can be constant, which means targeted youth may not be able to escape it. Nothing posted online is private and anything that is shared can be released widely and is difficult to remove, which means that the effects of cyberbullying can move far beyond the reach of a classroom or playground. Because cyberbullying happens in a virtual environment, it’s hard for adults to hear it in order to intervene, which makes it difficult to notice.
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.
- Cyberbullying can happen anywhere at any time, even in places where you normally feel safe such as your home.
The effects of cyberbullying can be intense and long lasting. The sense of anonymity provided in online environments can lead people to say things that are harsher than what they would say in person. Teens and children who experience cyberbullying are at risk of emotional, behavioral and mental health issues. Cyberbullying has even led to teen suicide. Teens who are bullied are at a higher risk for suicide. Some studies have shown that children who experience cyberbullying can be up to two times as likely to attempt suicide.
To keep your teen safe from cyberbullying, Michigan State University Extension recommends the following:
- Pay attention to what your children are doing online. Be on the lookout for warning signs your child is being cyberbullied or is cyberbullying others.
- Be aware of what your child is doing online. Have full access to their accounts and periodically review them. You might “friend” or “follow” them on social media sites or ask another trusted adult to do so.
- Tell kids to keep their passwords safe and think about who they are sharing personal information with.
- Create rules for digital behavior and content.
Talk to your child about what to do if they are cyberbullied. Make sure your child knows they can ask you for help if they need it. Stopbullying.gov offers the following suggestions:
- Ignore it.
- Block the offender.
- Be in control of your emotions and respond with kindness.
- Rely on your friends.
- Remind that yourself that cyberbullying isn’t really about you.
- Acknowledge your feelings.
If your child is being cyberbullied, Stobbullying.gov recommends you do the following:
- Notice it.
- Talk about it.
- Document it.
- Report it.
- Support your child.
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:
- MSU Extension's Bullying Resource Page and bullying resources
- MSU Extension's Creating Safe Environments for Youth
- Helping Kids Deal with Bullies by KidsHealth
- Digital Awareness for Parents from Stopbullying.gov
- Parent Resources from the Cyberbullying Research Center
For more articles on child development, academic success, parenting and life skill development, please visit the Michigan State University Extension website.
To learn about the positive impact children and families experience due to MSU Extension programs, read our impact report. Additional impact reports, highlighting even more ways Michigan 4-H and MSU Extension positively impacted individuals and communities can be downloaded from the Michigan 4-H website.