Ok, admit it. We all have been a bully at some point in our lifetime.
Think back to your days in elementary or middle school. Ever said something mean to someone on the playground about the way they look, talk, dress? Teased them about getting bad grades? Even about being a “smartypants” because they got good grades? Ever joined in with a group of friends and said some “funny” things about classmate or that strange kid down the street? Or ignored someone or excluded them from the group or a conversation?
We thought we were pretty funny back then, right? Parents and school officials might have even downplayed the behavior, saying it is “just kids being kids,” or “no harm, no foul.” And that might be true with a one-time funny joke or comment. But when it becomes a regular behavior, it is bullying.
What makes bullying today different from the playground of your childhood is that kids have no sanctuary from the harassment. They can’t run home from it, because bullies, especially cyberbullies, now follow your child home through their social accounts. And it no longer comes from just a mean kid or two at school. It could be hundreds of people joining in and piling on.
It is a constant drum beat that only they can hear yet can’t silence. It involves more than getting pushed down on the playground or always picked last for a game. It now takes the form of words, photos and images that are put out there for the world to see and comment on. And the damage is deeper than a bruise. It can be life-altering, even life-threatening.
The Signs of Cyberbullying
Because the wounds aren’t visible like a cut, we as parents must always be on the lookout for the signs that your child might be being cyberbullied. Here are some common warning signs your child may display:
- Anger, depression or frustration after using any devices
- Stops using devices unexpectedly
- Stops accessing social media sites, apps or games
- Uneasy about going to school
- Abnormally withdrawn from friends and family members
It's unlikely your child will come to you about being bullied unless you've already opened the discussion with them and they know that you are a safe place, no matter what the situation. They need to know they can communicate openly with you. The key is to start internet safety conversations early.
How to Start the Conversation
The Center for Cyber Safety and Education has put together a simple tip sheet on how to recognize whether your child might be a victim of cyberbullying and what to do about it.
We even have a fun way for your younger children to learn the basics of internet safety taught by everyone’s favorite cat, Garfield, and his friends. The growing series of lessons focuses on privacy, posting online and cyberbullying, with more coming soon. You know better than anyone how early children are on the internet and using devices these days, so NOW is the time to start teaching them proper etiquette and safety practices that will help keep them safe and secure online their entire life. You can learn more about the Garfield’s Cyber Safety Adventures and try it for free at The Center for Cyber Safety and Education.
When they were little, we taught them to look both ways before crossing the street and eventually, to watch for children crossing the street when they are driving. The internet can be just as fun as driving and just as dangerous. Teach your children the same precautions about the internet and teach them as if their life depended upon it…because it does.
About the author:Patrick Craven a father of two and the director for the Center for Cyber Safety and Education (Center), a non-profit charitable trust committed to making the cyber world a safer place for everyone. The Center works to ensure that people across the globe have a positive and safe experience online through their educational programs, scholarships, and research. Visit www.iamcybersafe.org. If you have questions or topic ideas, please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org.