Kids today grow up in a much different world than their parents. With children as young as six years old already having their own smart phones, they’re subject to a digital world that can be harder to monitor than the physical world. Before children’s brains are fully developed, they’re making videos on TikTok, using social media like Instagram and Snapchat, and taking endless photos and videos of themselves and their friends.
But without the proper monitoring and education, cyberbullying can be a huge issue with harmful effects on children’s physical and mental well-being. That’s why so many parents are wondering how to stop cyberbullying in it’s tracks. This guide will tell you everything you need to know about cyberbullying from a parent’s perspective, from learning what it is in the first place, looking for warning signs, helping your child to overcome cyberbullying, and reporting it to the proper authorities. Let’s get started with the cyberbullying parents guide!
Disclaimer: This Security Baron Guide does not provide medical advice. The content provided here is informational in nature and does not address individual circumstances. It is not a substitute for speaking with a physician/medical professional and should not be relied upon solely for ensuring your safety. If you think you are having an emergency, please call your local emergency services.
What is Cyberbullying?
It may seem obvious, but let’s make sure we’re all on the same page about what cyberbullying actually is.
Definition of Cyberbullying
Cyberbullying is any bullying that takes place over digital devices, be it a gaming system, social media, text, or any apps that your child may be using. While bullying of any form can be detrimental to a child, cyberbullying is particularly harmful, according to StopBullying.gov, an anti-bullying website managed by the United States Department of Health and Human Services. Here’s why:
- Persistent: While regular bullying stops when the school day ends, digital devices are always with us, making cyberbullying available 24/7.
- Permanent: Cyberbullying creates a digital record which is often difficult or impossible to remove and could affect a child’s future, be it for job opportunities or higher education.
- Hard to notice: While in-person bullying is clearly visible, cyberbullying is not as easily seen or heard.
Dr. Mildred Payton, a psychologist and bullying expert, echoed this sentiment in an interview with the New York Times, saying,
“Victims can’t get a break from the harassment since the bullies can access the internet anytime. Even if a child isn’t online, pictures of them can still be circulated by their peers— and they are humiliated in school when they find out.”
Cyberbullying can manifest in different ways, according to Stopbullying.gov, including:
- Writing or sharing negative, harmful or false content about another person
- Sharing personal and possibly humiliating information about another person
- Violent threats or telling someone to kill himself
- Doxing, which means making personal information like names and phone numbers publicly available. Swatting is a form of doxing where the cyberbully calls in an anonymous police threat, using the victim’s address so the police show up ready for violent action. Swatting is most common in online gaming and has even left victims injured by the police, according to an article from the Cyberbullying Research Center.
- Sockpuppeting, or making a fake identity profile
Cyberbullying can also be based around race, socioeconomic status, sexual or gender identities. Some cyberbullying stems from jealousy. No matter the reason, cyberbullying is something that must be addressed as soon as possible, as its effects could be highly detrimental to a child.
Cyberbullying Facts and Statistics
When it comes to the number of kids being cyberbullied, different studies have yielded different results:
- About 15% of students in grades nine through 12 reported being cyberbullied within past year, according to a study from the National Center for Education Statistics.
- A third of people in 30 different countries said they’ve been cyberbullied, according to a UNICEF poll.
- 37% of people said they’d been cyberbullied in the past 30 days, according to 2019 data from the Cyberbullying Research Center.
- 59% of teenagers in the United States say they’ve been cyberbullied, as reported by data from the Pew Research Center.
All of the studies found that cyberbullying is a common practice for kids and teenagers, although their exact numbers differed.
Aside from the pervasiveness of cyberbullying, researchers have discovered a few other interesting findings regarding the relationship between cyberbullying, gender, and socioeconomic status. The Cyberbullying Research Center’s 2019 data found that adolescent girls were more likely than adolescent boys to be cyberbullied. The content of the bullying also differed between the sexes; while girls were more likely to spread rumors about each other, boys were more likely to threaten their victims.
The Pew Research Center found that teens from lower income families were more likely to be cyberbullied. While 24% of kids from households where the income was $30,000 or less reported being cyberbullied, only 12% of kids from households with incomes over $75,000 experienced cyberbullying. Surprisingly, race, ethnicity, and parents’ level of education did not influence the probability of cyberbullying, the survey found.
Cyberbullying Laws— Is It Legal?
Like any legal topic, cyberbullying laws differ by state, although there are some federal statutes that apply across the country. Let’s start with state and local governments.
State and Local Cyberbullying Laws
State and local laws differ when it comes to cyberbullying, with the majority of states maintaining laws that require schools to have a bullying policy and a written procedure for investigation and punishment. Many states also require bully prevention programs, but generally, laws don’t mandate specific punishments for cyber bullies. In the same vein, bullying isn’t typically classified as a criminal offense under state law. The chart above shows each state in the United States and it’s laws regarding cyber bullying, specifically whether their law includes:
- Criminal sanction: If the bullying has progressed to harassing or stalking the victim, the bully may be held liable in the criminal court.
- State sanction: Sometimes, schools are able to handle bullying themselves without needing to involve law enforcement.
- School policies: Every state but Montana requires schools to have a formal policy dealing with bullying and punishment. However, the policies may or may not require a specific definition of bullying, depending on the state.
- Off-campus behavior: Federal law dictates that schools can discipline students for off-campus behavior, which many states codify in their state statues, according to an article from the Cyberbullying Research Center.
Only 22 states have laws that specifically include cyber bullying, according to an article from the United States National Institute of Health.
Federal Cyberbullying Laws
The federal laws that pertain to cyberbullying are as follows:
- Protecting Children in the 21st Century Act (2008): The Federal Communications Commission regulates video services to prevent child pornography. This act amended the Crime Control Act of 1990, tripling the fines for anyone who knowingly and willfully fails to report child pornography and requiring websites to label sexually explicit material.
- Deleting Online Predators Act (2006): Schools and libraries must prohibit children from accessing commercial networking sites or chat rooms unless they are educational and the kids are under adult supervision. This law protects minors from seeing obscene visual depictions or child pornography, which could cause psychological harm.
- Children’s Listbroker Privacy Act (2004): If a seller knows a user is under age 16, they can’t sell or purchase their personal information for marketing purposes.
As you can see, children are protected online by federal law, so if your child’s cyberbullying includes child pornography, sexually explicit material, or a sale or purchase of their data, the bully could be liable for their actions. No matter what state you’re in, always consult a lawyer before making any decisions.
Warning Signs of Cyberbullying
The best way to handle cyberbullying is to stop it as soon as you see the warning signs in your child, visible whether they are the victim or the perpetrator. Here’s what to look for, according to an article from Stopbullying.gov:
- Increase or decrease in device usage
- Emotional responses to devices, including laughing and looking angry or upset
- Hiding of screens and devices and refusing to talk about what they’re doing on the device
- Creation or shutting down of social media accounts
- Avoidance of social situations
- Seeming withdrawn or depressed.
It’s always important to pay attention to your child’s emotional state and to stay involved in their lives. Although they may want to be grown-ups, they are children who need support and guidance, especially if they’re involved with cyberbullying.
Effects of Cyberbullying
Whether your child is a victim, a bully, or a bystander, cyberbullying affects everyone in different ways, another article from Stopbullying.gov explains.
Cyberbullying Affects on Victims
Child victims of cyberbullying are more likely to experience:
- Depression and anxiety
- Changes in sleeping and/or eating patterns
- Loss of interest in activities that they used to enjoy
- Health complaints
- Decreased participation in school and academic achievements, as victims of cyberbullying are more likely to miss, skip or even drop out of school
While many believe there is a direct relationship between cyberbullying and suicide, it’s important to remember that most kids who are cyberbullied do not die by suicide. So far there is a lack of evidence between a causal relationship between suicide and cyberbullying. Teen suicide is difficult to predict, but generally victims are depressed, and may have problems at home, as well as a history of trauma. Additionally, certain groups are more likely to die from suicide, such as American Indians, Alaskan Natives, Asian Americans, and LGBTQ youth, if they’re not supported by their parents, peers and schools. But most likely, cyberbullying won’t in itself lead to suicide, unless there’s a plethora of existing problems and or lack of support from friends and family.
Cyberbullying Affects on Bullies
Although they’re in an ostensible position of power, cyberbullies are more likely to experience negative consequences including:
- Drug and alcohol abuse
- Physical fights
- Property vandalism
- Dropping out of school
- Early sexual activity
- Abuse to partners, children, etc.
Cyberbullying’s Affect on Bystanders
Even innocent bystanders can be deeply affected by cyberbullying, more likely to experience:
- Use of tobacco, alcohol, and drugs
- Mental health problems like depression and anxiety
- Missing or skipping school.
Cyberbullying doesn’t occur in a vacuum; rather, it’s usually a symptom of larger issues. Regardless of the reason, the effects of cyberbullying can be significant if it’s not prevented or handled correctly.
How to Prevent Cyberbullying
Fortunately, there are a number of measures that parents can take to prevent their child from being cyber bullied, or from being involved in cyberbullying at all. Of course, there are also some best practices for your child’s use of social media, so that the burden doesn’t land completely on you, the legal guardian.
Unfortunately, experts haven’t landed on a common consensus on how to prevent or address cyberbullying in it’s totality. However, most scholars agree that parents need to talk to their kids about cyberbullying, presenting it to them either through a website or tip sheet, as suggested by the National Institute of Health. Nevertheless, here are some suggestions:
- Urge your kid to be kind online and, if they get emotional or upset, wait a few minutes before posting anything. While you can’t control how other people treat your child, you can make sure they know how to control their own behavior, treating people how they want to be treated, suggests an article from Your Teen Magazine.
- Make sure your child is educated on general Internet safety— check out the Online Safety section of our article Security and Safety Resources For Families.
- Stay on top of what your kid is doing online, be it through gaming, social media, or anything Internet-related.
- Monitor any online friendships just as you would with any other friendship your child has, but make sure your kid isn’t revealing any personal information to online friends or meeting them in person, says an article from the National PTA.
- Set up privacy controls when you can.
- Google your child and see what comes up, so you can attempt to remove anything harmful before bullies see it, as an article from the Cyberbullying Research Center proposes.
Kids’ Best Practices For Social Media
Of course, you can’t completely prevent cyberbullying— your kid is going to have to pitch in as well, implementing strategies to stay safe especially on social media. Here are some basic tips for your child from the Cyberbullying Research Center:
- Use a unique, long, and complicated password for each account (if it gets hard to remember, try using a password manager with two or multi-factor authentication).
- Never take X-rated photos, as these are considered to be child pornography and are illegal.
- Don’t open any unidentifiable or unsolicited messages.
- Log out of all online accounts when you’re done with them.
Of course, there’s no way to completely prevent cyberbullying from taking place, even with the most vigilant parenting and social media practices. If all else fails and your child is a cyberbully or a victim of cyberbullying, here are some ways to end it.
When Your Child is the Victim of Cyberbullying
Seeing your child being bullied is difficult, but it’s even more difficult when it occurs online. Here’s what you should do if your child is being cyberbullied:
- First, block the cyberbully and make your child’s online accounts private, limiting who can contact them. Never respond to or even forward bullying messages, as that will just exacerbate the situation, according to an article on Stopbullying.gov.
- Talk to them about it: what happened, who was involved, and how they feel about it. Not only will this be cathartic for your child, but it will also give you some valuable information if you want to report it.
- Screenshot all instances of cyberbullying.
- Determine if you want your child to speak to a guidance counselor or therapist, suggests another Stopbullying.gov article. If that’s the case, check out our resources section below to learn how you can find the right mental health professional for your child.
When it comes to reporting cyberbullying, you have three options to report to, depending on the situation:
- Online service providers: Cyberbullying may violate Internet Service Providers’ and social media platforms’ terms or service or rights and responsibilities. Review their conditions to see if cyberbullying is allowed or not before reaching out, says Stopbullying.gov. The Cyberbullying Research Center provides a list of up to date contact information for various social media platforms, gaming networks and related companies on a webpage titled “Report Cyberbullying Here”.
- Law enforcement: If the cyberbullying included threats of violence, child pornography, sexually explicit messages or photos, stalking and hate crimes, or a video of photo of someone in a place where they have a reasonable expectation of privacy, like a bedroom or a bathroom, you can report it to the police. Of course, state laws on cyberbullying differ, so make sure to research your specific state before contacting law enforcement.
- School: If your child is being cyberbullied by a classmate, you can choose to report it to the school. Like I said, different states require schools to address cyber-bullying and off-campus behavior in different ways. If you’re not happy with the school’s actions (or lack thereof), you can also report the cyberbullying to your state’s contact at the United States Department of Education.
When Your Child is Cyberbullying
Finding out that your child is cyberbullying someone can be upsetting, but it’s not something that can’t be dealt with in a productive manner. Here are some best practices for ending the situation and making sure your child learns their lesson, all suggested by an article from the Cyberbullying Research Center:
- Acknowledge the issue and remain calm, keeping an open line of communication with your child. Try to understand why they feel the need to cyberbully, which may stem from other issues.
- Stop the cyberbullying as soon as possible, which may require investigating your child’s devices and browsing history.
- Try to build empathy in your child for their victims. To jumpstart the conversation, simply ask your kid how they would feel if the roles were reversed.
- If your child is resistant, you may have to set up parental controls on their devices.
- Is this job too big for you to handle? Don’t be afraid to turn to a peer group of parents who may have experienced similar situations.
- If necessary, stay on top of what technology your child is using and monitor their Internet usage.
With the proper combination of punishment and support, you can help your child see the error of their ways and prevent them from cyberbullying in the future.
If you feel overwhelmed or unable to fully handle your child’s involvement with cyberbullying, there’s no shame in calling a hotline or even a therapist. Remember, it takes a village, and asking for help is not a sign of weakness but a sign of strength.
Talking to an independent third party could be helpful in terms of emotional catharsis and practical advice. Here are some hotlines for both you and your child:
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: If your child is feeling suicidal, they can get free support 24/7 from this hotline.
- 1800Victims Resource Directory: Simply enter your zip code to get a list of resources in your area.
- The Trevor Project: As LGBTQ youth are more likely to be cyberbullied, they might want to speak to someone specifically trained to deal with their issues, whether over phone, text or live chat.
- National Parent Hotline: Sometimes parents need hotlines too! This organization will help you become a stronger parent but supporting your emotionally, helping you problem solve, and connecting you with local services and resources.
Finding a Therapist For Your Child
Sometimes talking on an anonymous hotline isn’t enough. In that case, you may want to seek out professional, in-person help for your child. Here are some resources for finding the right therapist:
- Psychology Today Therapist Database: Search for mental health professionals by your location to find dozens of options with photos, contact information, credentials, and information about their specialties. Psychology Today also allows you to search by insurance, sexuality, gender, age, language, faith, type of therapy, and more.
- American Psychological Association Psychologist Locator: This list is even more selective, showing only psychologists at a doctoral level, meaning they hold a Ph.D, PsyD or EdD. However, you’ll still be able to search by practice area, insurance, gender, treatment method, age, sexual orientation, nationality, gender, religion, and other factors.
With the right support at home, in school and in therapy, your child can move on from their cyberbullying and minimize negative long-term affects.
Unfortunately, technology doesn’t exist in a bubble. Rather, it seeps into everyday life, and nearly all our interactions involve electronics at some level. For children, the line between technology and real life is even more blurry, as they’ve been surrounded by smart devices their entire lives. As a parent, it’s your job to make sure that your child is safe, and that extends to the online space. While cyberbullying can seriously affect your child’s well-being, with the right knowledge and practices, you can help them to handle the situation appropriately and move on to something more positive.
How are teens and kids cyberbullied?
Cyberbullying can manifest in different ways, according to Stopbullying.gov, including writing or sharing negative, harmful or false content about another person, sharing personal and possibly humiliating information about another person, violent threats, doxing or swatting and sockpuppeting.
How can I prevent cyberbullying?
To prevent cyberbullying, urge your kid to be kind online and don’t get in fights, educate your child on Internet safety, monitor your child’s Internet use and online friendships and set up privacy controls
What should I do if my child is a cyberbully?
If your child is a cyberbully, acknowledge the issue and remain calm, stop the cyberbullying as soon as possible, try to build empathy in your child for their victims, set up parental controls, turn to a peer group of parents who may have experienced similar situations and monitor their Internet usage.