Teens & Screens: What parents should know about cyberbullying

Cyberbullying affects almost half of all American teens and can have devastating effects.

Teenage Girl Being Bullied By Text Message On Mobile Phone

Image source: Thinkstock

What is cyberbullying?

Most of us are now familiar with the term “cyberbullying.”

Cyberbullying is essentially bullying through electronic technology. This includes, but is not limited to, social media sites, gaming sites, text messaging and email. This form of bullying can include publishing rumors or gossip, embarrassing or humiliating photos or even creating false posts or profiles on social media.

Why are teens at risk?

The National Crime Prevention Council reported in 2011 that cyberbullying is a problem that affects almost half of all American teens.

What makes this a particularly concerning issue for our teens? Developmentally, the adolescent years are a time when children are identifying themselves more strongly with their peer groups and interpersonal relationships outside the home become more important than they were in the early school years.

A blow to that identity or bond, in the form of a humiliating photo on Facebook or an attack that turns peers and friends against a teen, can therefore have devastating effects.

How do we prevent cyberbullying?

  • Privacy. 
    Teach your kids to maintain their privacy online and to protect their passwords. It may seem natural for your teen to share the password to a Twitter account with a best friend. However, that same person may take advantage of that information in the event of a fight or falling-out.
  • Log out.
    Make sure they know to log out of accounts when they step away from a computer. It’s far too easy to impersonate someone on an electronic device if they are already logged in.
  • Be aware.
    Monitor your child’s online activity and be honest with them about it. “Friend” your teen on Facebook or follow their other accounts. Discuss this ahead of time. Make sure they know you are doing this to help protect them, not to interfere.

What do we do when cyberbullying is happening to our teenager?

  1. Ask your teens to talk to you immediately if they or someone they know is being harassed or bullied, whether in person or online!
  2. Teach your child not to respond to harrassing or bullying comments but to keep track of them. As a parent, it may be wise to keep copies of emails or take screen shots of offending material so that it cannot be erased or deleted if needed later.
  3. Help your child to block people who post, text or email this kind of material. Don’t give the bully a voice.
  4. Report the offense to the cell provider, internet provider or social media site. They all have terms of service (TOS) which may allow the offender to be permanently blocked from access to the site.

Certain types of cyberbullying are criminal and should be reported to law enforcement. Examples of this include threats of violence, sexually suggestive material and certain types of photos.

You can learn more about how to prevent and stop this problem for teens by visiting stopbullying.gov.