More than one in five students reports being bullied, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics. For parents, this may bring back memories from their childhood of name-calling or aggression on school property, and a laissez-faire attitude from teachers or administrators.
In our constantly connected era, bullying may look different. Through Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook and other social media platforms, bullying has moved online.
In fact, the percentages of individuals who’ve experienced cyberbullying at some point in their lifetimes has nearly doubled from 2007 to 2016 — from 18 percent to 34 percent.
The evolution of technology has contributed to the disconnect between what you say, and its impact on the recipient, especially as cyberbullying can occur anonymously. As conversation moves online, there’s less opportunity for supervision, guidelines and monitoring from parents or other adults. The constant connection of smartphones and other electronic devices also means victims are less able to escape the bullying by physically removing themselves from the situation.
Unfortunately, cyberbullying is no less harmful than bullying offline. Adolescents and teens can develop anxiety, low self-esteem, depression, stress and even suicide ideation. And, in a world where information and posts on the Internet can live forever, cyberbullying can feel more permanent.
How can parents and other adults recognize cyberbullying? As we recognize October as National Bullying Prevention Month, take a look at three ways to recognize the signs — and steps to address the behavior.
My formerly social child isn’t interested in social activities.
Withdrawal from social activities, longstanding friendships or even a previous interest in sports or other after-school activities can raise a concern for parents. Oftentimes a child will fake a stomachache or illness to avoid a situation, including school.
If you notice these behaviors in your child, talk to him or her, and be prepared to listen without judgment. Your primary goal is to gather information, but also to ensure your child understands what is happening is not his or her fault, he or she is not alone, and you’re here to help.
I’m noticing changes in my teen’s sleeping and eating habits.
Trouble sleeping, an increase in nightmares or restlessness, and even changes in eating habits can point to challenges with bullying. Your child may begin to skip meals in response to a bully’s comments about weight or body shape, or may turn to food as a comfort and begin binge eating.
Ask your child about these changes in behavior, and be open to his or her responses. Your child may not be immediately ready to talk, or able to communicate the “why” behind his or her actions, but you can still be a supportive presence.
My teen is spending lots of time online or on her smartphone.
As a parent, it’s important to set boundaries for social media. Perhaps phones go away at 9 p.m., or can only be used in family spaces like the kitchen or living room. While spending a significant portion of free time online isn’t always a sign of cyberbullying, it could be a sign of dependence.
Establishing rules about usage together ensures your child has boundaries AND that he or she is comfortable talking with you about social media and any issues that may arise.
Of course, not all children who are bullied exhibit these warning signs — or any at all. Parents should maintain open communication with their teen and child as much as possible, to listen without judgment while your child works out his or her feelings.