Contributor: Daniela Isakov, MD
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Cyberbullying, like any bullying, is repetitive negative behavior that can demean or embarrass a child or teen. It can happen online in texts, emails, video game chats and on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter.
It is particularly harmful because it can happen 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Messages or pictures are easily shared and can go viral. This can have long-lasting effects, long after the initial incident. This type of bullying is more challenging because children often do not report it to adults.
Recognize the signs
About 24 percent of middle and high school students have been cyberbullied at some point in their lifetimes, according to research published in 2013 by the Cyberbullying Research Center.
Watch for the warning signs: a child who is suddenly withdrawn, doesn’t want to go to school, seems to have low self-esteem or is scared or anxious without a known reason.
When to ignore it, when to act
Sometimes, responding to cyberbullying isn’t the right approach. If it’s just a single comment, ignoring it can make it stop. When it fails to get a response, this can take the air out of the bully’s sails.
However, when it becomes a repeated pattern and is something violent, threatening or particularly cruel or personal that makes the victim too scared or embarrassed to go to school or hang out with friends, then it needs to be reported.
You should always be on the lookout and ask your children questions. There are many tools out there to help set privacy and security settings.
There are special software monitoring programs that can help parents monitor what is happening online. Keep computers in a public space. The bottom line is to be involved with your children and if they come to you with any concerns, take it seriously.
If your child is bullied:
- Keep all written records (this includes emails or texts)
- Help guide and coach your child
- Get the school involved
- Reassure your child that they have done nothing wrong
- Call your child’s doctor and set up an appointment
- Check out these sites: Onguard Online and NetSmartz
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Teach kids: ‘Think before you click’
The great life lesson, think before you act, applies especially to the instant communication of cyberspace.
Here are some suggested talking points to guide your kids:
- Don’t send messages or post anything when you are angry
- Don’t write or send anything that you would not want a friend to see
- Be as polite and courteous to people online as you are to their faces
- Never send naked or compromising pictures of yourself to someone, even if they promise no one will see them (many times everyone ends up seeing them)
How to start a conversation with your teen
Often, kids don’t tell their parents about cyberbullying because they are afraid they will be punished.
Keep lines of communication open so that kids feel comfortable telling you they have been cyberbullied or that they have sent a picture or a message that has hurt someone or that they regret sending.
Regular family dinners are the perfect way to stay in touch and keep your children happier and healthier.
Here are some great ways to start the conversation:
- Do you feel like you can tell me if you ever have a problem at school or online?
- Who are your friends on Facebook?
- I want to be your friend on Facebook. Would that be OK with you? What would make it OK?
As parents, we can’t avoid some of the hurts our children face as they grow up. But by being proactive in both understanding our kids and in learning about new technology, we can support our children and step in when it goes beyond what’s reasonable for any kid to handle.
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