By Mary Kay Hoal
The headlines are familiar: “Cyberbullying Victim Takes Their Life." “Cyberbullying at an All Time High." “Thirty-eight percent of Girls and 26% of Boys Report Being Bullied Online."
The media has done a good job of bringing the problem to the forefront. We've raised awareness among parents to recognize signs that their kids have experienced bullying. Countless groups and a number of resources have been established to help the victims. Yet little attention has been paid to the bully. And not enough has been done yet to help parents identify the signs that their own child might be the one doing the bullying.
Any parent can understand that bullying is wrong. In fact, you don’t even need to experience it first hand to imagine the torment that victims experience. What most people aren’t aware of, though, is the impact of cyberbullying. Consequences can range from academic suspension to parents being sued for libel. In severe cases where a cyberbullying victim commits suicide, the bully can even be charged with manslaughter.
Are you concerned that your child may be a cyberbully? Take note of these signs that your child has taken on this aggressive role and the tips for getting him the help he needs.
Two Red Flags
First, recognize that kids who bully, online or in person, first learn at home that it’s okay to treat another person with disrespect or that it’s okay to hurt another person. This can be learned directly from or influenced by:
A parent or other adult influence in a child’s everyday life that demonstrates bullying behavior themselves. This adult is usually aggressive; they like to dominate; they like to use their physical size, strength or intelligence to intimidate others; they are cunning or manipulative, and usually rude and disrespectful.
You or your spouse. Our children are a product of their environment. Look at yourself, look at your spouse/significant other and look at the adults that spend a considerable amount of time with your child. If any of the people that come to mind demonstrate this type of behavior, then throw up the red flag.
Adult-intended social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, Formspring and Tumblr. Social networks like these can boast a culture of “anything and everything goes”, and members aren’t held accountable for their actions because they’re anonymous. It’s important to understand that your experiences on these sites are entirely different then your child’s and to monitor your child's online activity, patterns and hours spent.
YouTube. This is a great site for enjoying user-generated video content, and it is here where kids seek attention by posting videos to broadcast themselves. Typically, the more outrageous the video, the more views it will get. Sadly, that was the exact case of the horrific Karen Klein bus-bullying video taken by the middle school boys. The boys took the video because they wanted to post it on YouTube, and they wanted to post it on YouTube because they knew it would get plenty of views.
- Instagram. Whereas Facebook has a minimum age requirement of 13, Instagram is a public-facing social network open to all ages. Underage users flock to post photos with quick commentary on Instagram, making it a home for cyberbullying as well. Monitor your child's account settings and place them as "private," reserving approval for all connection requests.
Second, recognize that 50% of real-world bullies are also cyberbullies. According to the Cyberbullying Research Center, if your child has bullied others in person, then this is an indication that their behavior might be repeated online.
5 Things You Can Do to Help Your Child:
Talk with your child and tell them that being cruel or mean to others is wrong, both online and offline, and that such behaviors are not acceptable and won’t be tolerated.
Have your child sign a technology contract so that rules and consequences are clearly defined.
Start monitoring your child’s online and cell-phone activities. Responsible parenting requires that you know exactly what your child is doing online. It doesn’t mean snooping or spying; it means being alert and proactive to concerning behaviors.
Steer your child in the direction of youth-intended social networks like Yoursphere, where the community is one of respect and positive interaction, and members aren’t recognized or rewarded for outrageous behavior. Instead, these social networks teach their members the importance of digital citizenship.
Give your child a hug. A bully typically has low self-esteem and is ultimately seeking attention. Whether your child is a bully or not, a hug and an “I love you” is just the type of attention every child needs.
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Mary Kay Hoal is a nationally recognized expert on children’s social media and online safety. She is the founder and president of Yoursphere Media Inc., which focuses on the family and publishes the kids’ social network Yoursphere.com. Mary Kay also offers parents Internet-safety information at YoursphereForParents.com. She has been profiled on CNN, BBC, E!, Fox & Friends, TIME, Lifetime TV and many others. Mary Kay is a contributor to ABC's 20/20 as their family Internet-safety expert. For more information visit www.marykayhoal.com.