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How to deal with online “cyber bullies”

Emboldened by anonymity, some adolescents are engaging in cyber bullying and are using e-mail, instant messengers, and social media sites like Facebook to send vicious threats and spread nasty gossip.

Updated 07.10.19

Unlike bullying in school, cyber bullying continues 24/7 and allows school year rivalries to simmer through the summer. Both boys and girls are targets of cyber bullying, though girls are often more devastated by the put-downs, rumors and sexual slurs.

At first glance, it may seem to adults that the solution is as simple as closing a window. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. For teens who are unsure about themselves and their place in their peer group, knowing that someone is posting lies about them can be genuinely traumatic, especially when the rumors spill into real life.

What is cyber bullying?

Cyberbullying is when a person uses the internet, mobile phones and other technologies to inflict psychological harm on their targets. The main differences between bullying and cyberbullying is online and the communication between young people is usually hidden from adults, making it difficult to detect and deal with at home. The repetition can be less personal but just as hurtful when shared widely by anonymous internet users. Online socializing can occur 24/7, so home, weekends and vacation can’t be breaks from the hurt if bullying is occuring.

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What can I do if my child is a victim of cyber bullying?

Online bullying becomes more complicated when children are tormented by kids they know in real life. Anonymity empowers bullies to continue to act aggressively. Children are often reluctant to tell parents about these incidents for fear it will make things worse. It’s up to parents to ask whether kids are getting picked on at school or on the Internet. If your child is taking steps to avoid going to school, or if they seems upset, sad or angry when or after using their phone or PC, it may be a sign of cyberbullying. Also if they are switching screens whenever you enter a room is a red flag to pay attention to and address.

For all these reasons, parents need to bullyproof their kids by helping them recognize and respond appropriately to intimidation — both on and off-line. Here are some tips for dealing with cyber bullies:

  1. Make a distinction between teasing, which is part of normal friendship, and bullying, which is not. Teasing is reciprocal and stops when one person gets upset. In bullying, the same person is always the victim and the bully takes pleasure in his or her distress.
  2. Determine whether your child knows the person in real life. If you decide your children are mature enough to use sites where interaction with strangers occurs (such as chatrooms), warn them that some people get their kicks by “flaming” other people. These abusive messages are meant to provoke a response, so the best way to thwart the sender is to ignore them and either leave the website or carry on as if the person isn’t there. If the bully sends harassing e-mail, messages from that address should be blocked. (To find out how to block an e-mail message, check the help section of your ISP’s web site.)

What advice to give your child regarding cyber bullying

  • Reassure them it is not their fault. Praise them for coming to you about it. and let them know no one deserves to be treated cruelly, let your child know that this isn’t their fault.
  • Tell them don’t reply. Tell them not to entertain or reply to messages that harass or annoy them.  The bully does things for reactions, don’t give them one. If you can’t remove yourself from the situation sometimes humor can distract or disarm a person from bulllying.
  • Keep the messages. Keep the messages and make a record of the bullying, the dates and the times. This will help if the bullying is ongoing and an investigation is launched.
    • Click here to learn how to screenshot messages on an Android device
    • Click here to learn how to screenshot messages on an iPhone device
  • The Block button is your friend. No one needs to take someone harassing them. You can block phone numbers, social media accounts, ect. from contacting your child.
  • Go to the proper authorities and report the incident/incidents. Help your child report all cyberbullying to websites or service providers. Sites and social media apps have reporting tools. Talk to the right school authorities so they can keep an eye on it during the school day. If physical harm is ever threatened report it to the autorities with the records you have saved.

Children need to understand the emotional damage cyberbullying, and all other forms of bullying can cause. All forms of bullying hurt, all cause pain and all should be stopped. By stressing this to your child – and by enforcing the importance of not standing by while someone else is being bullied – it will encourage their responsible internet use.

How to prevent my child from being the bully?

Be sure your own child doesn’t participate in bullying. Some children who wouldn’t think of being unkind face-to-face become antagonistic and even cruel when they are online. Kids need to understand that the rules for being a decent human being aren’t different on the Internet. If you’ve taught your kids to be considerate, caring and compassionate in real life, be sure they know you have the same expectations in cyberspace.  

Explain to your child the importance of not hurting someone’s feelings by email or other forms of electronic communications. Tell them to respect other’s online rights, not to insult other people, and to remeain calm if insulted themselves. Teach them to respect people’s online privacy and be responsible for their actions.

Be active in their online life. Have them share what sites they are visitng and social media outlets they are on.

Building awareness and being open with your child is one of the most important things as a parent you can do to combat cyber bullying, so that they feel empowered to talk to you about cyberbullying instead of hiding it from you.

For more tips on cyberbullying visit stopbullying.gov.  

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