Unlike physical bullying, where parental intervention or school intervention can help address the problem, cyberbullying is a bit more complex to deal with. The first question that needs to be answered is: How do you define cyberbullying? Well, for the most part, cyberbullying occurs when your child feels that their safety is being threatened due to unwanted digital communication from someone else. This communication can be anything from text messages to comments in an anonymous Internet forum. The variety of online channels, the anonymity that the Interent affords and free speech rights are what makes cyberbullying very hard to track and deal with appropriately.
According to a recent study by MTV’s A Thin Line and the Associated Press, the most frequent forms of digital harassment are people writing things online that aren’t true, people writing things online that are mean, or someone forwarding a message that was intended to stay private. On the other hand, cyberbullying can take shape in much more elaborate and serious forms, like “hate pages”, which are dedicated to belittling someone’s reputation. A number of these have shown up on social networks like Facebook, where the bullies have created an entire page specifically to make fun of a teacher or a fellow classmate.
Avoiding cyberbullying altogether would essentially require getting rid of any means of digital communication. That means getting rid of all computers, forbidding any Internet access and getting rid of any mobile device – not a very practical solution, nor one I recommend since this isn’t a technology problem. Cyberbullying is just an online extension of a problem that’s been around forever: bullying. However, there are ways to keep cyberbullying from getting out of hand and taking a turn for the worst. The easiest way is to talk to your kids about how engaging with the bully in any way is NEVER a good idea. In fact, engagement is exactly what the bully wants; they want to know they’re getting under your child’s skin.
“Turning the other way” is much easier to do online or on a cell phone than it is in real life where the physical presence of the bully brings an entirely different dimension to the situation. In any case, as soon as your child turns the other cheek, they need to involve a trusted adult, like you or one of their teachers.
It always helps to talk to your children about making smart decisions when it comes to the websites they use. Our children’s minds are still developing, and most of the time they aren’t equipped with the decision-making skills to handle bullies. As a result, they can easily make premature decisions that have the potential to affect the rest of their lives. Staying away from sites like Formspring and Topix where anonymous interaction between members creates a haven for cyberbullying is always a good idea as it can help curtail the chances of cyberbullying.
As stated earlier, cyberbullying can happen via text message, too. Call or visit your cell phone provider and invest in one of their family safety solutions. All four major providers offer programs that are very cheap and help you moderate things like who can contact your child’s cell phone, whether or not they can send/receive picture messages and their Internet access options. You can see a full list of these offers, here.
And finally, if your child is under 13, make sure the sites they join were actually created for them—meaning, the site doesn’t have a 13 or older requirement in their Terms of Service. Yoursphere.com is a great example of an online community where children don’t have to lie about their age to join. Adult/teen intended sites like Formspring usually have little to no content moderation, while sites like Facebook usually have too much content to keep up with. That being said, we can’t rely on website operators to protect our kids. We as parents have to equip them with the proper knowledge and skills to handle each situation in the best manner possible.
Recording and Reporting –
If cyberbullying has occurred, there are steps that you and your child can take to handle the issue appropriately and effectively. First, take screenshots of the bullying if it’s on a website. You can do this with the “Prt Sc” button on your keyboard (Command + shift +3 on a Mac) and pasting the image into any photo editing program. You can also use free tools to help you do this, like the Awesome Screenshot tool for Safari, Firefox and Chrome. If you use Internet Explorer, Jing is a great screenshot tool.
Whether the cyberbullying is on a blog or a social network, the next thing you want to do is contact the website owners. Send them the screenshots and corresponding URLs, and ask them to remove the content immediately. If the bullying is more serious and you feel that your child’s life is being threatened, let the website operators know that you will be involving law enforcement. Typically, law enforcement can only become involved when a life has been threatened. Sharing this information with the website operators should prevent them from deleting any information that the police might need to track the bully down.
If the bully is at your child’s school, contact the school administration as well. Let them know what happened, when it happened, and tell them you have screenshots to prove it. You can also make an attempt at contacting the parents of the bully and dealing with the situation that way. I recommend sharing the evidence with a parent versus simply telling them: “Your child bullied mine.” Be prepared for the parent of the bully to be in denial. Keep in mind that many parents may not be prepared to deal with what their child has done, and may need some time to appropriately respond.
Specific to Facebook – “Tagging” someone in a photo is an easy way to bully them. Granted your teen doesn’t have the proper privacy settings enabled, all the bully has to do is upload a photo and tag their name. Make sure they know how to remove this tag. Then make sure they set their privacy settings so that they have to approve tags before they become official.
Privacy Settings > How Tags Work – Edit Settings > Profile Review (ON), Tag Review (ON), Tag Suggestions (OFF)