Social media platforms and online forums have the power to connect people around the world. They build community and togetherness, and they offer a place for people to give each other, love, support, and guidance. However, this connectivity does come with a dangerous downfall—cyberbullying. Cyberbullying poses a real threat to today’s youth, which is why it’s important to know strategies for preventing and stopping incidents of cyberbullying.
What is cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying is bullying that occurs through digital means. Cyberbullies can attack people using cell phones, social media accounts, interactive games, apps, and even email. According to stopbullying.gov “Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Tik-Tok” are some of the most common places where cyberbullying occurs. Perpetrators also use online chat rooms and message boards to attack their victims. These events are often repetitive or sustained, and they are personal and meant to inflict social or emotional harm. Here are seven examples of cyberbullying:
Spreading false rumors
Harassing messages or comments
Sharing images or information to humiliate
Impersonating the victim
Why do people bully others online?
While it is difficult to know exactly what causes people to harass and bully others online, there are some commonalities within the profile of those who do. Dr. Amanda Nickerson—Psychology Professor at the University of Buffalo and Director of the Alberti Center for Bullying Abuse Prevention—says that cyberbullies may “lack empathy” or “view aggression as an appropriate or justifiable behavior.” Nickerson points out that “people who cyberbully others often engage in other forms of bullying—such as physical, relational, and verbal bullying—or display other behavioral problems including impulsivity.” She also notes that “high parental conflict, low parental supervision, poor peer relationships” and a history of “[being] victimized themselves” may relate to this type of behavior.
What to do if you experience cyberbullying
Being the victim of cyberbullying hurts. It can leave you feeling violated, intimidated, embarrassed, or threatened. Whether you’re dealing with internet trolls, people hiding behind fake accounts, or cruel messages from someone you once considered a friend, there are steps you can take to deal with your cyber situation.
Ask the person to stop
The first thing you should do when experiencing negativity online is to ask for it to stop. When faced with cruel posts, online rumors, or angry comments, communicating your feelings is crucial. Keep in mind that a short and direct request is best, and you should only ask the person to stop if you feel safe enough to do so. Otherwise, avoid interacting with them in any way.
Remember, it’s important not to retaliate against a cyberbully. Cyberbullies hide behind the anonymity of the internet and they use the secrecy of fake accounts or private messages to disturb, discourage, and scare others. Engaging in a back and forth conversation with this person could actually excite or even enrage them.
You can still stand up for yourself without fighting back. The first step in doing this is to gather evidence of bullying or harassment. You should screenshot, download, and save messages, images, videos, or voice recordings sent by the attacker—even if they are embarrassing or upsetting. Remember to also save proof that you asked the person to stop. Doing so substantiates the idea that the bully knew they were upsetting you, and it helps to show that the harassment is sustained and ongoing.
Block and report
After documenting the situation you should take advantage of any safety and privacy options that are available to you. Protect your emotional well-being by blocking the bully’s phone number and social media accounts. Next, report the person or user to the appropriate authority. Sometimes this is as simple as making an in-app complaint, and other times it may require contacting a school administrator or even the police.
Reach out to a trusted adult
Your feelings matter. If someone is trying to tear you down, it’s best to find some allies in trying to build you back up. Talking to a supportive counselor, teacher, parent, or coach is a good place to start. Share how this event makes you feel, and ask for advice. Knowing that someone is in your corner can help rebuild your confidence and lessen feelings of isolation.
If you don’t feel comfortable reaching out to an adult in your life just yet, there are other options. Stopbullying.gov recommends calling 1-800-273-8255 (TALK) if you need someone to talk to about the ways cyberbullying is affecting you.
Protect your accounts
In addition to blocking individual accounts on social media, you may be able to take further steps to protect yourself online. Apps often have privacy settings that limit what a non-friend can see on your account or profile. Also, there may be settings that control what kind of comments can be posted to your page. Shagoon Maurya—psychologist, psychiatrist, and founder of ursafespace.com—recommends that you also “log out when using [a] public [device] or your friend’s device at all times to prevent misuse.” Maurya is also adamant that social media users “do not share private information like address and phone number openly.”
Understanding the scope and impact of cyberbullying
Online devices, social media apps, streaming platforms, and interactive message boards have integrated with society and community. The implications of the movement toward technology do not bypass children and adolescents. With 95% of U.S. teens online, it is important to understand the scope and range cyberbullying has.
Speaking with Lauren Tingley, Creator of Simply-Well-Balanced she notes “In recent years, data has shown an increase in this number to nearly one in five US teens who face online harassment on social media sites. Most common among 13-17 year old (75% of them), with 54% of these teens saying they were harassed daily or weekly–often by classmates they knew in real life–with over 80% experiencing emotional damage because of their bullying experiences. Children and teens are especially vulnerable to bullying from their peers, and between social media, distance learning and doing everything on Zoom, children of all ages are spending more time online than ever before. This has made it even easier for these bullies to victimize others without supervision.”
Dosomthing.org also points out that girls and members of the LGBTQ+ community are disproportionately affected by cyberbullying. These numbers are significant, as those “who experience cyberbullying are at greater risk…for self-harm and suicidal behaviors.”
Tips for parents looking for cyberbullying solutions
Most parents want to help their kids navigate the ups and downs of growing up—they guide them through the emotional rollercoaster that is finding friends, building confidence, and standing up for themselves. But when it comes to online interactions, some parents feel overwhelmed and unsure of how to intervene when something goes awry. Despite the enormity and complexity surrounding cyberbullying, experts say that there are some prevention methods and intervention techniques parents can use to help their children.
Establish a line of open communication
The first step in helping your children deal with cyberbullying is to establish a trusting and judgment-free relationship. Explain that navigating social media, chat forums, and other online interactions can sometimes be difficult. Encourage your child to come to you if they receive an upsetting message or image.
Role-play cyberbullying scenarios with your child. This will help you gain insight into how your child might behave if they were to encounter online harassment or intimidation. Remember, cyberbullies sometimes gain leverage over their victims by threatening to embarrass or blackmail them with private or sensitive information—so it’s important to let your children know that you won’t judge them if they come to you for help.
Research parental controls and monitoring apps
With multiple social media accounts, hundreds of text messages, and an endless number of online chats and forums, it may feel impossible to effectively monitor your child’s online activity. Take advantage of parental controls on your child’s devices and social media accounts and look for applications that offer monitoring and protection.
The Bark app is one parental tool that monitors text messages, emails, and activity on dozens of social media sites and platforms. It sends alerts to parents in real-time, and it can be used to jumpstart conversations about online safety. Using an app like this helps protect your children from cyberbullies while still respecting their privacy.
Promote peaceful resolutions
Beyond asking for the person to stop, tell your kids to avoid engaging with a cyberbully. Teach your children not to retaliate or fight back. Instead, encourage them to block and report people demonstrating cruel or inappropriate behavior. Cyberbullies often thrive off of online attention. By not responding, the bully may lose interest and stop.
Speak to a school counselor
Your child’s guidance department can be an excellent resource for preventing and dealing with incidences of cyberbullying. According to Dr. Johanna Sam—Professor of Counseling, Psychology, and Special Education at The University of British Columbia—schools with “anti-cyberbullying programs were more effective [in] reducing incidents of cyberbullying in comparison to [schools with] programs that focused generally on violence prevention.”
It’s important to ask your child’s guidance counselor about what the school does to prevent cyberbullying and support healthy internet usage. If the school doesn’t have an anti-cyberbullying program, ask if they would consider adding it to the social and emotional learning plan.
Know when to contact the authorities
While kids may need your support dealing with the occasional negative comment or rude text message, some instances require outside intervention. When the bullying is sustained or threatening—and blocking isn’t enough to keep your child safe—it’s important to let people know what’s going on. Reporting abuse on social media platforms, and reaching out to school officials or your local police is necessary if the bully’s behavior is criminal or dangerous. Here are four reasons to bring cyberbullying to the authorities:
If illicit photos are being sent to a minor
If the bully is threatening someone’s safety
If the bully is stalking the victim
If blackmail is being used to get the victim to commit a crime or engage in dangerous activity
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