Bullying has been a problem for children as long as there have been children. These days though, bullying has taken a technological turn and, in doing so, has become more secretive that it has ever been before.
With the internet at everyone’s disposal and being used by children all across the world everyday, what used to be a problem that took place in public is now often taking place privately and even anonymously. Cyber-bullying is becoming one of the top challenges faced by children today and because of its more private nature is often not as easy to detect as bullying may have been in the past.
But, even though it may be more private in its execution, cyber-bullying can be more devastating to your child than traditional bullying, leaving them feeling exposed to the entire world and completely without control of their own persona and reputation.
With that in mind here are steps parents can take to detect cyber-bullying before the problem escalates.
1. Set aside a weekly time to have a 15-30 minute parent-child talk. Communication is important all the time, but make this a special time where the focus is on what is happening in the child’s life, good and bad.
2. Leave judgment out of the discussion. If your child is engaged in a dangerous activity you of course need to put a stop to it, but when you are having a discussion session avoid any instincts to make judgmental comments. There is time to address issues after you have engaged in open free conversation.
3. Watch how your child responds to any criticisms they may receive from teachers, coaches, friends or siblings. Victims of bullying often become hyper sensitive to criticism and may respond in a dramatic way to even the slightest criticisms.
4. Keep an open channel of dialogue with teachers. Though the act of cyberbullying takes place on line it almost always is perpetrated by someone your child knows in real life, most likely at school. Make sure the teacher knows to contact you the instant they see any form of bullying taking place.
5. Notice changes in your child’s daily habits. The stress of cyberbullying will almost always become visible as changes in your child’s routine. Things like eating less, a change in sleep habits, less attention to grooming or frequent illnesses are signs that should prompt a conversation.
6. Know your child’s internet habits. There are some times when parents can be overly nosy into their children’s private matters. Even kids need to have a sense that they have a right to privacy. However, just like you wouldn’t let a toddler cross the street without holding their hand, children should not be expected to be able to navigate the internet unaided. Know what your child is viewing and doing.
7. Be mindful of any changes in the way your child uses the internet. Cyber-bullying can lead to your child either spending more time online, trying to confront the bully or counter criticisms and insults, or they may become reluctant to use the computer at all, feeling that it is a source of pain. Any sudden change in the way the use the internet warrants further discussion.
8. Teenagers and pre-teens are moody. Its just a fact of life. If your child begins to show a sudden change in demeanor, however, there is probably a reason. Notice if your child’s normal mood swings become more dramatic. Persistent depressed moods, reclusiveness and any sign of interest in self harm are signs of cyber-bullying that need to be addressed immediately.
9. Grades are a very often a good barometer of how your child is feeling emotionally. Not every child is going to make the honor role, but if you see your child’s grades slipping don’t immediately assume they are just being lazy. A decline in grades and the quality of schoolwork is often a sign of cyber-bullying or other important issues.
10. If the group of friends your child associates with suddenly change or stop coming around it may be due to cyber-bullying. Kids are prone to peer pressure and a bully can often persuade you child’s friends to join in the bullying. If your child loses interest in friendships or ends a relationship with a longtime friend try to find out what caused the change.
If you find your child is the victim of cyber-bullying put a stop to it immediately. Contact the bullies parents, the school, the authorities, whoever you need to in order to make sure that the bullying stops.
Childhood is hard enough these days without being belittled and insulted by a bully, cyber or otherwise. Left to the children, cyber-bullying can lead to serious consequences for the bully and bullied alike. Both victim and victimizesr may come to see violence as the next step once the bullying begins to escalate.
Remember, though children need privacy, they also need protection. It can be like walking a tight rope trying to find the middle ground between the two, but it is also one of the most important parts of being a parent.
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