Parents often fear schoolyard bullies when they send their children off to school, but what they may be unaware of, is that their children are susceptible to harassment in their own homes. Only 7% of US parents are worried about cyberbullying, even though 33% of teenagers have been cyberbullied, according to internetsafety101.org.
Cyberbullying is defined as an “aggressive, intentional act carried out by a group or individual, using electronic forms of contact, repeatedly and over time against a victim who can not easily defend him of herself, ” said Peter Smith, professor at the University of London.
As social networking sites have become the main platform for communication, cyberbullying is a serious issue parents need to be aware of. There are benefits of social media for communication purposes, but the question many parents ask is “How can they protect their children from the harms the cyberbullying?”
Being a victim of cyberbullying can lead to the use of alcohol and drugs, skipping school, poor grades, lower self-esteem and more health problems, according to stopbullying.gov. Girls and boys of all ages can be victims of cyberbullying, which can take place by email, cell phones, social media sites, blogs, web forums, and instant chat.
“There was this app thing on Facebook where you could post anything on what you think about someone, and it was completely anonymous,” said a senior graphic design student at Chico State. “They would say things about my looks and how my boyfriend at the time was cheating on me.”
The prevalence of cyberbullying in today’s society is uncanny. “One in eight online teens reported that someone had sent them a threatening or aggressive email, instant message or text message,” said Amanda Lenhart, research specialist for pewinternet.org. Recently reality TV star Kylie Jenner was a victim of cyberbullying through Twitter, when users said she wasn’t the biological daughter of Olympic Gold medalist Bruce Jenner.
“After learning what cyberbullying was in one of my classes, not only did I learn that I was a victim of cyberbullying, even worse I cyberbullied someone else,” said communication studies student at Chico State. “I wish I could go back to the person I did that to and apologize.”
Cyberbullying messages and images are posted anonymously and quickly through a wide audience, making it difficult to trace the source, according to stopbullying.gov.
“I hear these stories of teenagers committing suicide because of what is said about them through Facebook, MySpace or whatever, and it just makes me sick to my stomach,” said a senior communication and disorders student at Chico State.
The underlying question many parents are asking is “How to notice the signs of cyberbullying?” It can be anything from abusive texts and emails, to the imitation of others online, the exclusion of others online, and posting inappropriate images or messages on social networking sites, according to cybersmart.org.
To prevent cyberbullying, it is key for the parent and child to work together. It is important for parents to be aware of what their children are doing online, both inside and outside their home. Parents should know which websites their children are visiting or are members of. Establishing rules in their home of which websites are appropriate, or creating a parental lock on inappropriate websites is helpful. Informing their children to ensure that their child is able to differentiate what is appropriate to post on websites, especially on social media sites, is another helpful tip to avoid cyberbullying. Many schools have policies that demonstrate to the children which websites are inappropriate. Understanding these rules and maintaining this at home will help children acknowledge which sites are appropriate and ones they should avoid on the web.
“At this time my children are too young to be on social media but bullying at school does happen,” said a mother of three from Durham, Calif. “I just encourage them to stand up for themselves and surround themselves with people who treat them like they want.”
For further information on how to prevent or report cyberbullying, visit www.stopbulling.gov.
Below are some helpful ways for teens to avoid cyberbullying:
1. Educate yourself
2. Protect your password
3. Keep photos “PG”
4. Never open unidentified or unsolicited messages
5. Log out of online accounts
6. Pause before you post
7. Raise awareness
8. Setup privacy controls
9. “Google” yourself
10. Don’t be a cyberbully yourself