10 Things to Teach Children About Cyberbullying
March 23, 2021
We already know that kids are spending a lot more time in front of screens. Smartphones provide a great outlet for connecting with friends. However, learning to disconnect and set boundaries for tech time is only one part of practicing digital well-being. What kids are doing on their devices is just as important to their social, emotional, and mental health.
During these uncertain times, smartphones have connected us and helped reduce feelings of isolation. Even popular online games have offered social benefits. Communicating online doesn’t include the same social cues, like facial expressions or tone of voice. But we do have more time to think about what we want to say.
The pandemic created additional stressors for everyone. However, pre-adolescents (“tweens” 9-12 years-old) are more inclined to lash out, create interpersonal conflicts, and engage in high-risk behaviors. With the onset of COVID-19, stay-at-home orders went into effect, and children became far more attached to their devices. Many children are at their computers almost all day, while parents struggle to homeschool and/or work remotely.
In a 2020 report published by the Cartoon Network, “Tween Cyberbullying in 2020”, the Cyberbully Research Center stated that “most teenagers have their own devices, as do tweens. Almost one-third of tweens have their own laptop, two out of five have their own smartphone or gaming console, and over half have their own tablet”.
Initial research shows cyberbullying has increased 70% during stay-at-home orders – Verywellfamily, August 2020
Cyberbullying can take place on social media, messaging platforms, gaming platforms and mobile phones. It’s repeated behavior, aimed at scaring, angering, or shaming those who are targeted. Examples include:
- Sending hurtful messages or threats using messaging platforms (i.e. texting and email)
- Impersonating someone and sending mean messages to others on their behalf
- Spreading lies about, posting or sharing embarrassing photos of someone on social media
Reports of Cyberbullying are highest in middle schools (33%) followed by high schools (30%), combined schools (20%), and primary schools (5%).
– CDC, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control 2020.
Learning to be a good “digital citizen” isn’t enough. Students must be made aware that being online has both benefits and risks and they should be educated how to protect themselves. This means teaching them to think about what they are about to share on their devices and understanding the consequences of cyberbullying. “Targets of cyber-bullying can become depressed, sad, angry, and frustrated. Cyber-bullying can also affect self-esteem, contribute to family problems, disrupt academic achievement, lead to school violence, and give rise to suicidal thoughts (Hinduja & Patchin, 2018).”
According to ConnectSafely, the most vulnerable groups are ethnic, racial, and religious minorities, young people with special needs or learning disabilities, and lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) youth. However, any child with a digital device can be a potential target for cyberbullying.
10 Ways Kids Can Stay Safe from Cyberbullying
- Help children recognize cyber-bullying. Cyberbullying can be a one-off mean comment or repeated bullying. Teach kids to trust how they feel.
- Remind kids to pause before they post. Explain that comments and photos cannot be taken back after they’re shared online. Kids must take time to think about how a post affects their future.
- Talk about emotions and stress. We are living in unprecedented times of extreme anxiety. Come up with unique ways that you can handle stress.
- Practice healthy tech habits. Know when to put down your phone and step away from the computer. Be intentional about taking breaks throughout the day.
- Explain “cyberstranger danger” – Kids are safest when they are playing and chatting online with people that they know.
- Discourage retaliation. Cyberbullies are looking for an emotional response. Retaliating gives them a sense of power.
- Teach kids how to block cyberbullies. This is relatively easy on a smartphone. Each social media app is different (there is approximately 24 popular ones). However, instructions can be found on their online help pages. Cyberbullying statistics show Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat are the most common platforms for cyberbullying.
- Tell them to save harmful messages. Cyberbullying leaves a negative digital footprint – this can provide evidence to help stop the abuse.
- Encourage kids to tell a trusted adult. Explain that this is not tattling, and that they can go to a parent, teacher, coach, or guidance counselor. There’s nothing more empowering than standing up for yourself!
- Monitor online interactions. Adults can monitor social media sites, apps and browsing history, manage usernames and passwords, reset phone locations and privacy settings, and establish rules about appropriate digital behavior. Foster an environment of transparency and trust.
Adults who want to protect children from harmful digital behavior can use parental control and monitoring software to view online activities, block domains and restrict content without looking at their child’s device. Better yet, empower children with the skills to stay safe in today’s digital world. If your child is a victim of cyberbullying, document the behavior and report it to school or law enforcement immediately.
This is Part 3 of our series on Digital Well-Being.
Author: Michelle Marin is a certified program facilitator by Mindfulness Without Borders. She is an advocate for young people’s healthy digital media consumption and volunteers with the Digital Wellness Institute. She has been a technology marketing professional for over 20 years.
Respectful Ways offers social-emotional learning curriculum for three age groups: PreK-2, 3-5, and 6-12 students using interactive, digital modules on compassion, perseverance, respect and responsibility.