Cyberbullying is a real threat to children's self-esteem. We live in a time when five year olds have iPhones, and sixth graders have full access to all that the internet has to offer--both positive and negative.
As a parent, it can be overwhelming to keep track of the multitude of ways they can get hurt. Cyberbullying has generated a lot of attention, in part because it's almost impossible for a parent or teacher to prevent.
Whether you're a teacher or parent, teaching children about internet etiquette is important, but don't expect it to end the cyberbullying crisis. No matter how many times you tell a child not to do something, it's up to them to end the behavior.
While working at Sankofa Psychological Services, a private practice in Chicago that specializes in providing therapeutic and diagnostic services to children and adults, I investigated cyberbullying.
My coworkers and I reviewed the top psychological literature concerning the topic of cyberbullying and how to prevent it. We condensed the findings into a presentation and then delivered a seminar to local schools to aid the teachers' and administrators' understanding of the issue and give policy recommendations.
Here are three ways that parents can prevent cyberbullying:
1. Acknowledge that cyberbullying is widespread.
Your child has either witnessed it, been a victim, or has bullied others.
Research shows that three to 24 percent of children experience ongoing cyberbullying, while upwards of 72 percent have reported at least one cyberbullying incident. This internet bullying peaks from the 5th to the 8th grade and then declines during high school.
2. Be aware that cyberbullying has severe consequences.
Children who experience cyberbullying are 1.5 times more likely to attempt suicide than children who were not bullied.
Research showed that being involved in cyberbullying may better predict depression and suicidal ideation even more so than traditional bullying in children. Children that are cyberbullied or cyberbullies often have more acting out and behavioral problems than children that do not experience cyberbullying.
So if your child is feeling down or acting out, have a conversation about their social media and online peer interactions, and don't be afraid to ask for professional help.
3. Know that the bystander effect has the single largest impact on cyberbullying.
The bystander effect is a social psychological phenomenon that refers to cases when individuals in groups fail to respond or help a victim when other people are present. The more people there are in a group, the less likely the individual is to help someone.
In online interactions, the bystander effect is of vital importance. Bystanders can negatively impact the victim of cyberbullying by making the bullying more or less embarrassing.
If people chime in and laugh at the victim, he/she feels more isolated and hurt than before. However, if the people observing the bullying speak up and tell the bully that their behavior is inappropriate, it can lesson the blow to the victim and decrease the likelihood that the bullying behavior will be repeated.
Encouraging bystanders to speak up against the cyberbully is by far the most efficient intervention. Taking away the internet only heightens the sense of isolation for someone who's experienced cyberbullying, because children's social lives are not interconnected to the internet.
If you want your children to be safe online, then teach them and their friends to speak up against cyberbullying. The more that your children and their peers advocate and stand up for others, the less likely that behavior is to occur, and the less severe the injury is for the victim.
Cyberbullying may not go away any time soon, but empowering your children to take positive action to protect others is a message that will stay with them the rest of their lives.