A main part of the job of a parent is to keep your children safe. It might seem difficult to always know where they are and who they’re interacting with in person—but when it comes to monitoring their online presence, the challenges are even greater.
The statistics surrounding cyberbullying are alarming. A few years ago, the Pew Research Center found that 59% of U.S. teens had experienced some form of cyberbullying, with 42% saying they had been called offensive names either online or via their phones. In an international survey, 60% of parents said their kids had been subjected to online bullying, too.
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What is cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying is any kind of behavior online that can be classified as abusive, offensive, or designed to deliberately malign another person. While adults can be subjected to cyberbullying, too (such as by trolls on social media), the term is mostly associated with negative interactions among children.
In the past, a bully may have tried to exert dominance on the school playground alone but is now also able to send threatening text messages, leave malicious comments in Facebook groups, or attempt to tarnish their victim’s reputation online.
What are the common types of cyberbullying?
1. Fake profiles
Fake profiles are a common tactic used by bullies. One use of a fake profile is to impersonate your child. Under your child’s name, they could post embarrassing messages or threaten others. The perpetrator could also create a fake profile not to impersonate any specific individual but to prevent being identified while harassing their victims.
Remember when we confided in a friend back in the day, only for the revelation to become public knowledge a few days later? Outings follow the same principle, only in the digital realm. It refers to the act of publicly humiliating someone by revealing sensitive and private information about them, often on a social network. And one difference is that the information can live forever in a social post or image, rather than fading from memories over time.
No child wants the feeling of being excluded from events planned and organized by their classmates (adults struggle with it too!). Exclusion is another form of cyberbullying, where an individual might be deliberately left out of social and online activities—and then for the group to leave disparaging comments about the singled-out person.
Sometimes, bullies discard any attempts at anonymity and harass individuals in a sustained and intentional fashion. The messages are direct, threatening, and intended to instill fear in the victim. It’s the digital equivalent of the big kid in middle school that refused to leave you alone.
Harassment is a very serious form of cyberbullying and must be taken care of immediately. If left unchecked, it can have a sustained impact on your child’s mental health, confidence, and well-being.
Fraping is the act logging into someone’s else’s account without their permission and posting content in their name. While sometimes done in harmless fun, fraping can also be a deliberately harmful event, causing the victim mental anguish and trauma.
It’s never too early to teach kids about password security.
How to tell if your child is being bullied online
Kids often don’t confide in their parents if they’re being harassed or intimidated by their peers. However, there are warning signs that you can pick up on which may indicate the presence of a bully in their lives.
- If your child suddenly doesn’t have an interest in using the computer much anymore and only logs on for the most critical tasks, that could mean they’re not comfortable with what they’re viewing online
- If they vehemently object to having the computer in a place where you can see it or if they switch windows every time you walk by
- There’s considerable unease whenever they receive a message or text notification on their phone, with hesitation to check who it’s from
- They offer subtle hints about mental distress, such as not having many friends or feeling left out at school
- They display little to no interest in activities outside school
Cyberbullying resources for parents
Dealing with a bully in your child’s life can be difficult and traumatic. The Cyberbullying Research Center offers resources to help, including guidance on complex topics such as talking to the parents of the bully and responsible use of social media. Those parents who wish to seek legal recourse can check Media Smarts analysis, which indicates whether the behavior can be punished under civil or criminal law.