Social media, message boards, instant messaging, texting, blogging and video—all of these are here to stay. While they can be beneficial, they also carry the risk of cyberbullying. Anyone who regularly uses digital platform opens the door for the possibility of cyberbullying.

What should parents look out for if they suspect their child may be a victim of cyberbullying? What are some conversation starters parents can have with kids? Most importantly, how can you as parents do your part in preventing cyberbullying to keep kids safe? Preeti Sandhu, PsyD, Connecticut Children’s Pediatric Psychologist joins our blog to answer these questions. 

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What is cyberbullying and how does it happen?

Cyberbullying is when people use electronic communications to bully a person. It can take many forms:

  • Direct physical threats
  • Starting rumors to intentionally harm someone’s character
  • Posting, texting or emailing embarrassing or explicit images
  • Hurtful messages in the form of mean IMs, texts or other avenues
  • Creating fake accounts or impersonating someone to disguise one’s true identity
  • Sharing private information

Cyberbullying can happen anywhere there is internet access such as across apps, websites, and games. Even if your child is not a target, they’ve most likely witnessed it second-hand because of how much it’s expanded across media in recent years.

>Related: How Social Media Can Impact Mental Health and Change Brain Activity 

A young teen looks at her phone sadly

How do you talk to kids about cyberbullying?

First, it’s important to understand cyberbullying is intentional and repeated. So if your child comes to you or you are worried, definitely take it seriously. 

Second, if your child does come to you, take it an opportunity to start the conversation about cyberbullying and how to put protective measures in place. Here are some steps to do so:

  • Tell your child you care about them and want to help keep them safe.
  • Be honest about cyberbullying being a 24/7 problem. Bullying at school can follow a child home—there is no break. Acknowledge that taking their phone away will only just prevent your child from witnessing cyberbullying in real time.
    • As an action item, encourage your teen to balance social media use with in-person activities with friends.
  • Empower your teen and their friends to help stand up against the bully within their social media apps—but do this together. Have conversations about what this may look like, which will also show your child you have an interest in what they are doing.

Then, create a family action plan that will help determine what to do if or when your child is being bullied online

Here’s what an anti-cyberbullying action plan can look like: 

  • Make sure to include your child’s voice, as this will help to restore their self-confidence and teach them how to advocate for themselves.
  • Document the situation (save URLs, take screenshots, print photos and conversations).
  • Block the person/accounts perpetrating the bullying.
    • If you can identify the perpetrator, it may be helpful to reach out to their parent. This is an opportunity to teach safe internet behaviors.
  • Increase parental monitoring of your child’s social media activity, and privacy settings, as appropriate by age. Let your child know you are doing this for their safety.
  • Report the cyberbullying to the social networking site’s safety page and document this action.
  • Determine a timeline for when to involve the school.  Establish a point of contact (a teacher or other school resources) your child would feel comfortable with and ask for a meeting.
  • Determine if/when to report a cyberbullying case with your local police department. Make sure to bring documentation and actions on your part to intervene.
    • You may always ask for the support of a trusted school personnel to help navigate this situation.
Think before you post in social media

What are some warning signs that my child is being cyber-bullied?

If you suspect your child might be a cyberbullying target, here are some things to look out for:

  • Changes in friend groups that seem sudden or “off”
  • Conflict with peers or friends
  • Phrases being said often such as “drama” or “haters” which are two words used by children to describe cyberbullying situations
  • Increase in physical complaints such as headaches, fatigue, or stomachaches
  • Avoiding school and increasingly poor academic performance
  • Loss of interest in activities they enjoyed, including electronic devices or computers

>Related: Is Your Child Spending Too Much Time in Front of Screens? 

What are the top 4 safety tips to protect against cyberbullying?

You can get started by:

  1. Remembering that cyberbullying can happen 24/7, whether or not your child is reading the posts or images in real time. That’s why you might want to research the best parent monitoring software and tell your child you are doing so. Use this an as opportunity to have a conversation about internet safety and just like you would set up limits with learning to drive, learning to use the internet needs limits as children navigate what healthy and safe digital use is.
  2. Protecting private information and teaching your children how to guard against this.
  3. Creating an action plan with your children to help make sure you and your child agree on the steps so that when you may need to intervene, your child will understand why.
  4. Developing a healthy and safe relationship with social media because it’s an important aspect of children’s lives.

What are some cyberbullying articles and resources for parents?

Here are resources: 

Here are social media specific tools: