In 2012 the “Fairfax County Youth Survey” reported that 12% of the 6th, 8th, 10th, and 12th grade students surveyed had been cyberbullied. This translates into approximately 6,300 students from these grade levels alone. These attacks have become more disturbing because of the increasing occurrences that are outside of school and beyond the normal view of parents. The Internet and cell phones are providing the gateway for nearly unlimited opportunities to bring threats of physical abuse, continuous harassment, and emotional distress into a child’s home day and night. The home, once a “safe zone” from bullying, is now under attack from cyberbullying. But, unlike other forms of bullying, cyberbullies always leave evidence which can be used to take action against them.
Parents must be watchdogs for cruel and malicious attacks on their children who have access to a computer, tablet, or cell phone. The child victim will likely become afraid, ashamed, isolated, and intimidated to the point of being unable to reach out for help. But they shouldn’t be punished for inadvertently sharing personal information with bullies or for not coming forward sooner.
Cyberbullying occurs 24/7 and can appear anonymously, thus making it impossible for the child to confront or report the attacker. A child victim may not know the sender of an email or text message nor the number of kids involved giving rise to fear of the unknown. Photographs and videos with insulting comments can be posted on social networking sites to humiliate and embarrass a child publicly and repeatedly at any time. It is important to remember that these posts can last forever and can rarely be deleted. Schools and employers who search the Internet to check references or gather other information may come across these postings in subsequent years and cause them to take an unfavorable view of the victim.
Signs of cyberbullying to look for in your child:
-Seems upset after using the computer or cell phone
-Hides what they are looking at when you walk into the room or quickly closing the windows open on their screen.
-May be more withdrawn than usual
-Doesn’t want you to know what they are doing on the computer or text messaging
-Talks about wanting to change their email address or phone number
-Spends an unusually long time on the computer or not wanting to use it anymore
-Gets behind in their school work
-Seems anxious or angry
-Makes excuses to miss school
Actions you can take to prevent or respond to cyberbullying:
-Remind your children to never give out their email or home addresses, telephone number, name, age, gender, or even school name to anyone but close and trusted friends. Fake information and photos are the basic disguises used by the cyberbully to entice a child to disclose their personal information.
-Keep the child’s computer in a room which is used by all the family.
-Always encourage your child to talk about how they use the computer and cell phone.
-Reassure your child that they have done nothing wrong or deserve to be bullied or harassed.
-Change their email address and/or cell phone number, but reassure them that this is not punishment.
-Never allow them to reply or retaliate to cyberbully’s messages which are just what the bully wants.
-Keep a record of the all emails, calls and text messages.
-If your child knows the sender and attends the same school as they do, contact your child’s teacher or member of the school staff immediately.
-Notify your internet service provider and phone company of the abuse.
*Information included was extracted from the following sources:
1. “Bullying and Cyberbullying in Fairfax County,” September 2013
4. Bullying UK (bullying.co.uk)