New School, New Challenges: How to Help Your Child Deal with a Cyberbully
Gone are the days where the stereotypical bully is one who steals your lunch money and trips you up on the playground. Bullying has taken on a more anonymous approach in the form of cyberbullying – the use of digital communication tools such as the Internet and cell phones to hurt, threaten, embarrass, or provoke another person.
When my son and I moved to another state, I pictured him making new friends, joining clubs and organizations, and being accepted. I knew there would be a few challenges, but I never expected it to be such a great one. Unfortunately, he fell victim to cyberbullying, changing his online life from one of release to one of fear. After many tears and pep talks, we’ve finally found a way to work through it, and you can too.
Know the Signs
Many children who are cyberbullied shy away from telling a parent or caregiver because they are afraid, ashamed, or fear they will have their online privileges taken away. For this reason, it is important to be on the lookout for some of the signs of cyberbullying. When my son first started at the new school, things seemed to be going great – he loved his teachers and he had a group of friends he sat with at lunch. A few months into the school year, I started to notice some changes.
Some of the signs of cyberbullying include:
- Being visibly upset after Internet or cellphone usage
- Withdrawing from family members and friends
- Avoiding school or constantly feeling “too sick” to go
- Changes in mood, behavior, sleep schedule, and appetite
- Avoiding discussions about their online life
- Suddenly becoming disinterested in the computer or cellphone activities
While your first inclination might be to take the reins for your child and send your own strongly-worded response, refrain from doing so, as it will only add fuel to the fire. Instead, take a step back and think with your head, not your heart. Have your child block the bully using the block feature that is part of all social media sites and cell phones. If the cyberbully is posing as your child and creating fake profiles, change all contact information and Internet passwords, as well as report the profile to the company that hosts the site.
Take Away the Blame
When a child is a victim of cyberbullying, they are often confused, questioning why they were the target. My son was convinced that the move was the reason he was being cyberbullied since he suddenly became the new kid, but the unfortunate reality is that cyberbullying is common and can happen to anyone. Children need to realize that they are never to blame, and there is never a reason for someone to intentionally hurt them. Remind your child that cyberbullying speaks to the character of the aggressor, and has absolutely nothing to do with them. Often times, the cyberbully is unhappy with themselves, and wants to make your child feel as unhappy as they do. Use this as an opportunity to teach your child how their words and actions can impact others. We should always strive to build each other up, not drag each other down.
To help your child cope with the effects of cyberbullying, implement activities that improve their stress levels such as positive self-talk, breathing exercises, sports, activities, and hobbies. Teach your child how to de-stress so that they don’t get too overwhelmed and bogged down with everything that is going on around them. Find activities the two of you can do together, and use it as a time to strengthen the bond with your child, reiterating that you always have a listening ear. Dealing with a cyberbully was the hardest thing I’ve had to face as a parent thus far, but I learned a lot about the resilience of children and created a closer bond with my son.
Cyberbullying is a challenge, but it is one that can be overcome with the right tools and plenty of open communication. The first step is to block the bully, followed by building your child back up. Reiterate that they are never to blame, and encourage de-stressing activities to not only help them now, but in the future.
We welcome Laura as our Guest Blogger for September. Laura’s personal experience as a parent helps other parents to see the signs and to help their child to manage cyberbullying.