School bullying has existed for a long time, and at some point in our lives, we may have been a bully or a victim of bullying. In general, bullying is defined as repeated abusive behaviours in physical, verbal and psychological ways intended to harm or hurt another person. It involves name-calling, hurling insults, hitting, shoving, even threatening and extorting, etc. With the prevalence of the Internet and social media, bullying has taken on a new dimension in the form of cyberbullying. Using social media or other digital platforms, bullying now also includes acts of spreading online hate or rumours about another person.
One of the byproducts of online connectivity is anonymity. Anonymity has its pros and cons. It protects the user and allows the user to express his/her mind freely. But this empowerment can be dangerous. It can be disastrous when someone uses anonymity the wrong way, acting irresponsibly, bullying or worse, committing unlawful actions. A snide comment or groundless rumour may not mean anything to these “keyboard warriors”, but may mean a lot to another person reading it. Regardless of the intention, what they fail to realise that what they are doing is wrong, and may affect the person who’s on the receiving end.
Kids choose not to tell their parents or teachers about their bullying encounters for various reasons, e.g. ashamed of being picked on, fear of worse repercussions, etc. But they do not have to continue to suffer alone or in silence. So, what do you do when you find out or suspect that your child is a victim of cyberbullying? We share 3 key pieces of advice.
(1) RECOGNISE THE SIGNS
It is important that parents learn to recognise the signs if your kids are being cyberbullied, and there is an immediate need to take actions to prevent additional harassment or harm.
To begin with, what constitutes bullying or cyberbullying? Not liking someone or not wanting to be friends is not bullying, they may simply not like this person due to character or value differences. However, it is cyberbullying when one proactively circulates malicious, hurtful or false information about another person, divulges their personal information such as phone numbers, home addresses, private emails/photos, social media accounts, or even telling them to kill themselves, etc.
Being subjected to any forms of bullying (in this case, cyberbullying) can be traumatic, impacting negatively the victims’ lives as well as those involved. According to StopBullying.gov, the more digital platforms a child is using, the higher the chances there are for them to potentially be subjected to cyberbullying. Watch out for these red flags if you suspect that your child is a victim of cyberbullying:
– Major changes in their usage of electronic devices, be it increase or decrease
– Displaying obvious emotional reactions (both positive and negative) when using their devices
– Hiding their phones or tablets when others are near, and getting edgy when asked about what they are doing
– Shutting down existing social media accounts and/or opening new ones
– Sudden lack of interest in school or other activities
– Becomes anti-social, withdrawn or depressed
Due to perpetual connectivity, cyberbullying can be persistent, increasing the likelihood of anxiety and depression. When not properly addressed, cyberbullying can have long-term mental health effects.
(2) TAKE THE RIGHT ACTIONS
After you have identified some of the causes and warning signs, seek out what you can do to help your distressed child.
Firstly, talk to them and ask questions cautiously. Be sensitive to what they are going through, but try to find out as much information as required, such as what happened, how/when it started, who’s involved etc.
Stress to them that no matter what is the reason, cyberbullying is not right, it’s mean and it causes irrevocable damage to the other person’s reputation and life. Reiterate that you understand their pain and emphasise that everyone should be treated with respect, and one should not act towards others in ways they don’t want to be treated.
Keep a record of all that is happening and has happened. It is advisable to organise and save all these malicious comments or posts by taking screenshots or photos. If necessary, this documented information will come in handy when you need to take further actions against the cyberbullies.
Most social media platforms have tools available to report cyberbullying, trolling and offensive content, including spreading of hate or bullying messages. If your child receives such comments or messages, they can report it to the app administrators to have the offensive content removed or the involved account revoked.
In some cities, schools also maintain strong policies against bullying. Although cyberbullying typically happens online, pay also attention to their surroundings. Talk to your child’s school counsellors or teachers so they are aware of what’s going on and can help you keep a lookout for episodes that may take place during school. In serious cases where your child receives online threats of physical assaults, it is best to report it to the police.
Instead of charging online to criticising the cyberbullies, offer strong support to your child first, reassure them that it is not their fault and cyberbullying can occur to anyone and on any digital platform. Let them know that you will work out a solution together with them. Although it is not 100% foolproof and the bullies may find other ways to attack your child (either online or offline), it is still recommended to avoid or minimise any possible contact with these cyberbullies. Most communication tools and social media platforms allow users to block specific people/accounts from contacting them or viewing/commenting on their profile.
As parents, we can help prepare our kids in advance for situations like this, and be there to guide them along when it does happen to them. With the right amount of support and trust, negative encounters can turn into positive learning.
(3) REFRAIN FROM MAKING JUDGMENTS
There are also some things parents should take note NOT to do.
Remember, do not dramatise or diminish your child’s experience when he/she opens up to you about being cyberbullied.
Do not dismiss their calls for help as a sign of weakness or excuse. Certain things may come across as harmless or meaningless to an adult but may mean the world to a 12- or 15-year-old.
Do not blame your child for what happened or tell them it is “no big deal”, or “that’s life”, “I’ve been there too”. Empathise with them. The emotional torture of being bullied can have detrimental effects on your child’s physical and mental health. In some cases, cyberbullying can lead to death. Not all cases made it to the news, but one thing is clear: parents and educators alike must pay attention to what’s happening, and not get caught up in the rat race of life and neglect the wellbeing of the kids.
ADDRESSING CYBERBULLYING TOGETHER
As mentioned in our earlier article, the first and foremost step is to learn to read the signs. Parents should be observant about possible changes in their kids’ behaviour that may point to signs of distress. Maintaining regular and open communication will help a child to open up; and in the event of them being bullied or face a problem, you can be sure they feel comfortable enough to approach you for help.
Naturally, it’s easier said than done, but no matter how tough, parents have to teach or caution their kids about speaking up, and speaking out should they encounter bullying of any kind. Remember, cyberbullying is real, and can happen to anyone.