There is no age too young for parents, teachers and all other guardians of children to begin communicating with our youth, regarding the dangers of online communication. If a child knows how to use a Smartphone, computer or game console, they could become targets of cyberbullying.
Technology has transformed so much of how we operate and communicate on a daily basis. While it has made life much easier and more efficient, we must remember that our children are also accessing information via computer (or mobile device) at a much earlier age than our generation ever did. While a child or a young adult may know he or she is being bullied, they may not know how to get help or be too ashamed and embarrassed to speak up. Which is why we must be hyper-vigilant in looking for the signs of cyberbullying.
Signs and Changes in Behavior to Look For:
Unwillingness to disclose online activity: When you ask your son or daughter, what they are working on or who they are talking to online, be suspicious of fast, one word answers that are repetitive (i.e. homework, a friend you’ve never met). Ask a follow up question and look for jumpy or agitated responses as a red flag.
Sudden Screen Shut Down: If your child suddenly turns the screen off or turns the phone over when you come into the room or someone comes close enough to see the screen. As a follow up, make a silly joke that they might normally laugh at and look for a apathy as a red flag. (i.e. Are you shopping for my birthday gift so soon?)
Nervous or agitated state when a message alert sounds on a computer or cell phone
A change in sleeping and eating patterns: Look for a loss of appetite (or overeating/stress eating) as well as insomnia or nightmares.
Anhedonia or the absence of enjoyment, participating in activities they once loved
Trouble at school or Cutting classes: every teenager will rebel at some point. But look for a pattern of trouble at school and suddenly as a sign that something isn’t right
Withdrawn or signs of depression: This behavior can include everything from isolating oneself and changes in sleeping and eating patterns to drastic wardrobe adjustments and a change in music appeal.
Stressed or anxious behavior: While a child can become withdrawn as a sign of cyberbullying, they may also go to the other extreme and seem overly jumpy or anxious. For example, yelling or getting overly emotional because of something small such as having a neighbor or a friend’s parent drive them to school.
It is as equally important to know the different types of Cyberbullying that are happening online, to better understand how easy it is to fall victim. It is crucial to connect with the victim, without judgement. A child or teenager is more likely to disclose such an attack if they feel you are more understanding of the situation.
Forms of Cyberbullying Include:
Outing: Sharing of private or personal information, photos or videos that are humiliating to the victim. Cyberbullies are also extorting more photos and videos from their intended targets and using fear, threatening to “Out” the victim to their parents or by disseminating the images throughout the internet.
Masquerading/Impersonating: This is a tactic where the Cyberbully creates a fictitious identity or impersonates the victim (or as someone else close to the target) to harass them publicly.
Warning Wars: Using the Internet Service Providers or Social Media Networks warning (or flagging) system to report the Victim in order to get them kicked off line. This is also a form of exclusion
Exclusion: Intentionally deleting, banning or leaving the victim out of a group, chat, friend site or other forms of online group activities.
Flaming: Angry or offensive comments exchanged through emails, instant message and chat rooms. This is also referred to as trolling, where the troll hurls vicious remarks, insults and name calling at the intended victim with the intent that others will join in.
Trickery: This tactic involves fooling or tricking the victim into revealing personal information or embarrassing secrets, for the sole purpose of broadcasting the information on group pages and popular social networks.
Denigration: When a cyberbully publishes cruel gossip, rumors and other fictitious statements about the victim in order to intentionally damage friendships or their reputation.
Cyberstalking: This is one of the most dangerous forms of cyberbullying as it often includes a very real threat of an offline stalker. Cyberstalking can begin as information gathering for the purpose of making threats to embarrass or harass the victim. Cyberstalking can also include continuous denigration and threats of physical harm intended to control, intimidate or influence a victim
Just as you must look for signs, understand and educate your children all about the dangers of cyberbullying, you must teach them what to do in the event it happens to them.
Never respond or forward any messages that may be considered cyberbullying
Keep a log of the instances when the cyberbullying happened (i.e. dates, times, screenshots etc.). Print out messages and emails, to report to internet, phone providers and law enforcement. And finally, block the cyberbully from entering social networks, emails and phone number.