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Cyberbullying

What is Cyberbullying?

Cyberbullying is bullying that takes place over digital devices like cell phones, computers, and tablets. Cyberbullying can occur through SMS, Text, and apps, or online in social media, forums, or gaming where people can view, participate in, or share content. Cyberbullying includes sending, posting, or sharing negative, harmful, false, or mean content about someone else. It can include sharing personal or private information about someone else causing embarrassment or humiliation. Some cyberbullying crosses the line into unlawful or criminal behavior.

The most common places where cyberbullying occurs are:

  • Social Media, such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter
  • SMS (Short Message Service) also known as Text Message sent through devices
  • Instant Message (via devices, email provider services, apps, and social media messaging features)
  • Email

Cyberbullying Tactics

It is important to understand how children are cyberbullied so it can be easily recognized and action can be taken. Some of the most common cyberbullying tactics include:

  • Posting comments or rumors about someone online that are mean, hurtful, or embarrassing.
  • Threatening to hurt someone or telling them to kill themselves.
  • Posting a mean or hurtful picture or video.
  • Pretending to be someone else online in order to solicit or post personal or false information about someone else.
  • Posting mean or hateful names, comments, or content about any race, religion, ethnicity, or other personal characteristics online.
  • Creating a mean or hurtful webpage about someone.
  • Doxing, an abbreviated form of the word documents, is a form of online harassment used to exact revenge and to threaten and destroy the privacy of individuals by making their personal information public, including addresses, social security, credit card and phone numbers, links to social media accounts, and other private data.

 For more examples of cyberbullying tactics, visit stopbullying.gov.

What to do when Cyberbullying occurs?

If you notice warning signs that a child may be involved in cyberbullying, take steps to investigate that child’s digital behavior. Cyberbullying is a form of bullying, and adults should take the same approach to address it: support the child being bullied, address the bullying behavior of a participant, and show children that cyberbullying is taken seriously. Because cyberbullying happens online, responding to it requires different approaches. If you think that a child is involved in cyberbullying, there are several things you can do:

  • Notice – Recognize if there has been a change in mood or behavior and explore what the cause might be. Try to determine if these changes happen around a child’s use of their digital devices.
  • Talk – Ask questions to learn what is happening, how it started, and who is involved.
  • Document – Keep a record of what is happening and where. Take screenshots of harmful posts or content if possible. Most laws and policies note that bullying is a repeated behavior, so records help to document it.
  • Report – Most social media platforms and schools have clear policies and reporting processes (Tomball ISD Policies). If a classmate is cyberbullying, report it to the school. You can also Anonymous Alerts. If a child has received physical threats, or if a potential crime or illegal behavior is occurring, report it to the police.
  • Support – Peers, mentors, and trusted adults can sometimes intervene publicly to positively influence a situation where negative or hurtful content posts about a child. Public Intervention can include posting positive comments about the person targeted with bullying to try to shift the conversation in a positive direction. It can also help to reach out to the child who is bullying and the target of the bullying to express your concern. If possible, try to determine if more professional support is needed for those involved, such as speaking with a guidance counselor or mental health professional.

Tips for Parents on Cyberbullying

Having conversations with children about cyberbullying and digital behavior is not a one-time event – it is an ongoing dialogue. Begin talking about these issues before children delve into the world of texting, social media, online gaming, and chat rooms. Help them reflect on real and potential cyberbullying situations, and provide ongoing opportunities to practice ways to respond. Doing so can support the transition from being passive bystanders to being allies who serve as powerful role models for others.

If you think your child is witnessing cyberbullying, there are things that you can encourage them to do - and not do. Such as:

Do not participate. Encourage children not to “like,” share, or comment on information that has been posted about someone, and do not forward a hurtful text to others. Not participating may limit the potential damage of the messages – to others and to themselves.

Do not retaliate or respond negatively. If a child feels that they must respond, encourage a calm, clear, and constructive response. Angry and aggressive reactions can make a bad situation worse. Encourage children (and adults!) to step away from the device so they do not resort to blaming, shaming, or retaliation. This provides time to get calm and centered so they can create a response that makes it clear that others’ digital behaviors are hurtful and unacceptable.

Respond privately to the person who created the hurtful message. If they feel safe doing so, it may be helpful to follow up with the person who created or shared the hurtful message privately, either online, in a phone call, or in person. Doing so can make it clear they do not support the negative actions. It also provides an opportunity to authentically share concerns about the behavior and what might be behind it.

Follow up with the person who was targeted. By reaching out, a child can send a powerful message that they care about the person and they do not support the negative behaviors. If needed, this connection can also provide an opportunity to assist the person in finding help related to the cyberbullying situation.

Tips for Teachers on Cyberbullying

A child may be involved in cyberbullying in several ways. A child can be bullied, bully others, or witness bullying. Parents, teachers, and other adults may not be aware of all the social media platforms and apps that a child is using. The more digital platforms that a child uses, the more opportunities there are for being exposed to potential cyberbullying.

Many of the warning signs that cyberbullying is occurring happen around a child’s use of their device. Since children spend a lot of time on their devices, increases or decreases in use may be less noticeable. It’s important to pay attention when a child exhibits sudden changes in digital and social behavior. Some of the warning signs that a child may be involved in cyberbullying are:

  • Noticeable, rapid increases or decreases in device use, including texting.
  • A child exhibits emotional responses (laughter, anger, upset) to what is happening on their device.
  • A child hides their screen or device when others are near, and avoids discussion about what they are doing on their device.
  • Social media accounts are shut down or new ones appear.
  • A child starts to avoid social situations, even those that were enjoyed in the past.
  • A child becomes withdrawn or depressed, or loses interest in people and activities.
Credit: Information from www.stopbullying.gov.