When many of us were kids, there was no such thing as the internet, and even if there was, there was no such thing as Facebook, SnapChat, or Instagram. If bullying happened, it often happened at school and came in the form of spitballs in the classroom, locker shoving, choice words, or even being ostracized. Very little of this actually followed a child to their home life. Sure, sometimes the neighborhood kids would be rotten, or maybe prank calls would come in at the worst examples of bullying, but when it came to continuing bullying with a parent in the way, it didn’t happen often.

Nowadays, the internet is absolutely everywhere. Kids, in order to fit with their peers and social groups, need to be up on the latest and greatest social network, have the latest phone, and have the same one as their friends. With these avenues also comes the opportunity for children to use these same paths as ways to torment their fellow kids. The problem is with the internet everywhere, it makes it hard for children to escape schoolyard bullying and develop a healthy social circle.

A girl with her hands on her face in sadness

What does cyberbullying look like?

Online cyberbullying can come in a variety of forms. Some of the most savage forms are when children join together to make and run fake profiles, “catfish” other children, or run fake profiles on their behalf, simply to be mean to the other person. Children may also create secret chats or groups dedicated to making fun of another person, hurling abuse endlessly towards a child who doesn’t deserve it. Cyberbullying can follow a child nowadays into every aspect of their life. It can come through text, or on Facebook, or Instagram, or SnapChat, or it can even follow them into online gaming. This, along with verbal insults in person at school, can make hell for a child and follow them around 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

But cyberbullying doesn’t have to be that harsh to still happen. Bullying can take place in smaller forms, such as excluding a child from a group chat because they have and Android, and the rest of the friends have an iPhone, which causes the group message bubbles to turn green in iMessage. Yes, this is true, and it does happen. Children can take any small difference that they deem as not acceptable and turn it into a situation to make fun of the other child or exclude them entirely. It’s not always insults, but understanding when your child comes to you with a situation where they may be experiencing bullying (let’s say this child is now asking you repeatedly to buy them an iPhone) and asking applicable questions to find out what’s going on is important.

“Turn it Off”

An easy solution to online bullying is to “turn it off”, as in log off of Facebook, or turn off the cell phone. These may seem like applicable solutions, and something as an adult we can choose to do with little to no consequences. If Facebook gets too much for us, we can simply delete our profiles. We can change our phone numbers to stop text abuse. But for children and teens, being banished from Facebook or a cell phone by a parent can do damage to a highly internet-connected social circle. Making a child put down their cell phone is a double edged sword – you can protect them from constant bullying and harassment, but you may be making them miss out on important social cues and opportunities. It would be like if your parents made you sit by yourself at lunch time during school, instead of with your friends.

Some parents turn to limiting their children to certain websites or applications to ensure bullying stops. However, even innocent programs like Google Docs can become an area for bullying. Because Google Docs has built in collaborative options, children and teens can use a Doc to send messages back and forth, with the potential for damaging rumors or insults to come with it.

Additionally, a child cannot hide from the abuse forever. If parents limit Facebook time to one hour a day, and messages of abuse come into that Facebook account, those messages will still be there the next day, possibly with even more. They don’t only happen when logged in. Logging into Facebook (or other social networks) to talk with friends can mean a sudden barrage of abuse your child now has to read through, hoping for a real, legitimate message amidst insults and slurs. 

What can you do?

Cyberbullying, as with any bullying, can be a hard topic to approach. Your child may not want to talk to you about the abuse they are suffering at the hands of their peers. Being diligent about signals that may indicate your child is a target for bullying is important. 

Creating a safe space for your child is important too. Letting them know they can come to you any time they are feeling unsafe is important. Your child may fear “telling on” the people that are bullying them (they may perceive them as friends) and possibly exacerbating the situation. Making it clear that your child is in control can help open a dialogue and keep it open.

Teach your child how to retaliate (or not retaliate). Most bullying happens as children try to “punch down” to look better amongst their peers, or to get a reaction out of the bullied person. Deleting comments and messages without responding to them and using the block or mute buttons liberally can help stymie the flow of abuse. Some bullies will give up and quit when they don’t receive the satisfaction of a response from the child they are torturing. Use the tools available on social media sites to report cyberbullying as it happens; remember that being a micromanaging adult can sometimes do more harm than good, especially with teenagers, so allow your child to make these decisions with your guidance.

Still, having to read through hurtful messages can make a child depressed and feel unwanted. Reassure your child of trusted friends and that you and your family love them.

As technology evolves and new social platforms come into play, new avenues for abuse can crop up. Keep up-to-date on latest cyberbullying “trends” to turn off things like AirDrop so your child doesn’t receive unsolicited photos that will further perpetuate bullying. Monitor your child’s online gameplay and social media accounts — to an extent — and try to involve yourself in your child’s life by learning the ins and outs of these platforms yourself so you can ensure they are not being endlessly abused by cyberbullies.

Have you ever been the victim of a cyberbully? How did you handle it? Let us know in the comments below.