Tyler Clementi. Amanda Todd. Felicia Garcia. The list of teens that have committed suicide continues to grow and many cases have been linked to bullying, more specifically cyberbullying. In what was once a face-to-face encounter on the schoolyard, bullying has morphed into a 24/7 ordeal with tweens and teens using their smartphones, tablets and computers to harass peers mercilessly. While many young adults report seeing positive encounters online, 88% of social media-using juveniles have witnessed someone be mean or unkind to another person on a social networking site, according to a report from the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project. Ninety-five percent of teens that have witnessed this behavior on social media sites say they have seen others dismiss the mean behavior, and 55% see this frequently. It’s that hands-off approach—the case of the dismissive bystander— that leads to larger issues.
Dr. Deborah Temkin, research and policy coordinator for bullying prevention initiatives at the U.S. Department of Education, reminds young adults and parents that technology is not to blame for the harassment, rather it’s the way in which it’s being used that’s the real issue. BlackEnterprise.com talked with the StopBullying.gov expert on ways to prevent and stop cyberbullying from taking place:
Look for warning signs
“When kids start to really withdraw—they’re avoiding their computer, they’re avoiding activities, they’re avoiding friends that you knew they once hung out with, they are getting more stomachaches and headaches and [exhibiting] psychodramatic syndromes that are preventing them from going to school. These are all signs to say something is going on with my child,” says Dr. Temkin.
Engage with your child online
While parents may think sheltering their children is the perfect solution to curbing inappropriate behavior online, that tactic does more harm then good. “That actually tends to make things worse because then parents may not even know that their kids are online and experiencing something,” says the bullying expert. “The best thing is to make sure that you’re actively engaged with your child online, making your child aware you will be friends with them on a social media site and you will have their password so you can follow up on them.”
Take things one step further and really connect with your child, letting him or her know cyberbullying is wrong and you will be there to help ensure things will be okay.
While it’s not advised that you cut off cell phone and Internet use altogether, limits should be placed on when and how your children are using their mobile devices. Your child should know that you are monitoring them, and if something is bothering them or is happening, you will check in and handle accordingly.
Communicate the connection between life online and offline
It’s vital you explain to your child that the online harassment goes beyond the screen and will likely impact their daily life. “Make sure kids understand that the online environment is not separate from day-to-day life; that what happens online doesn’t stay online,” says the bullying prevention coordinator. “It’s something that is going to contribute to day-to-day occurrences in person.”
Legislation surrounding bullying varies from state to state, but there are some overall steps you can take to ensure your child’s rights are protected. Don’t hesitate to report the harassment to the website on which the bullying is taking place. There’s not a “one-size-fits-all approach,” reminds Dr. Temkin, but you can report the bullying to school administrators and they can look into the issue further and implement the appropriate policy.