The thought of a child being teased, tormented or threatened online will make any parent’s inner grizzly bear come out. With the threat of danger, we will do whatever it takes to protect our little cub. The problem with victims of cyberbullying though is that they don’t always come to their parents when an incident arises.
In the 2015 study, Young Canadians’ Experiences with Electronic Bullying, by Mediasmarts, Telus and prevnet.ca, it was found that 60% of youth witnessed others being electronically bullied at least once in the previous 4 weeks. Those youth in the study who had been bullied were less likely to find it helpful to talk about electronic bullying with their parents.
Why don’t kids come to their parents when they receive a mean or hurtful message? Dr. Alissa Sklar, operator of risk(within)reason, a Montreal based consultancy project focused on teens, technology and risky behaviours states there are two main reasons kids don’t open up. The first one being shame. Dr. Sklar states that “kids know their parents think they are wonderful and may feel ashamed to tell their parents that others are saying mean and hurtful things. They don’t want them to worry.”
The second reason is fear of reprisal. Victims of cyberbullying worry that their parents might make the situation worse by becoming involved. Dr. Sklar states that “from about 4th grade onwards, there is intense social pressure against being a “snitch” and parents need to explain the difference between tattletaling (to get someone in trouble) and telling (to get someone out of trouble).”
Parents must engage with their child and come up with a solution that involves taking action their child is comfortable with. “Forcing the bully and the victim to work things out or punishing the victim are inappropriate methods of handling a bullying situation” Dr. Sklar says. She stresses that parents and teachers should also “work with bystanders and other classmates who side with the aggressor out of fear of being targeted themselves.”
So what is a parent to do? Here are some tips to recognize the potential signs that your child is experiencing problems online:
- Hiding devices or being secretive of online activities. If your child hides their screen when you walk into the room, there may be something concerning going on.
- Highly emotional. If your child is getting upset or showing increased signs of aggression, they may be reacting to more than just an online game or video.
- Avoiding friends. Avoiding a group of friends your child normally enjoys being with or an activity they like participating in may indicate they are keeping their distance from a bigger issue.
- Changes in eating or sleeping habits. Interruptions in your child’s sleep or eating patterns may indicate a source of stress.
- Lack of confidence. A hurtful remark aimed at a child online can be devastating for them and affect their self-esteem.
When your child does approach you and shares that they have received a mean, hurtful or strange message, keep your inner mama bear restrained. Take a breath, stay calm and genuinely listen to what they are telling you.
Taking their device away, overreacting or dismissing their concerns as just “drama” or “silliness” will likely solidify the fact your child will not feel comfortable approaching you again in the future. Instead, try to see the situation through their eyes and create a plan together. Talk to your child’s teacher or principal about the situation. Contact the social media platform the bullying is happening on and take screen shots of the messages. If your school has a School Resource Officer, talk to them about the bullying or contact police if the situation escalates.
Taking an active interest and staying engaged with your child’s digital life will strengthen your connectivity with them both online and off.