Oped: Recognize and prevent cyber-bullying

Jane Swan
Reach Cyber Charter School

October is Bullying Prevention Awareness Month and in the online age of texting and social media, children have become more susceptible to bullying than ever before.

Jane Swan

From texting to Snapchat and Instagram, the number of platforms where children can experience cyberbullying is on the rise, but it can be increasingly difficult for parents to identify when there’s a problem.

Statistics indicate more than half of young people have experienced cyberbullying, and when they are bullied, they don’t confide in their parents. Just one in six parents is even aware of the scope and intensity of cyberbullying, according to Parents need to educate themselves and their children, so they know what to look for and can take action to stand up to bullying, if necessary,

Reach Cyber Charter School shares these tips for families:

Educate: Provide your child with knowledge about bullying and cyberbullying.

  • Offer some examples of things that a bully might do or say. This will help your student better understand when to “flag” a problem.
  • Let your student know that he or she can always come to you for help.
  • Before your child becomes active on social media, teach him or her how to be respectful online. They shouldn’t post words or photos that they wouldn’t share in person, that they wouldn’t want said about themselves, or that they know you wouldn’t approve of.
  • Remind your child that it is always important to be kind to others. Explain why treating someone poorly can sometimes have negative consequences.

Monitor and recognize:  If you suspect your child is being bullied, look for warning signs. He or she might be too scared or embarrassed to talk about it, but stay actively alert. If you detect a problem, talk to your student’s school counselor or principal for suggestions and guidance to resolve it.

  • Social Media — Keep a close eye on your child’s social media pages. Even if you already had a discussion about being polite online, it doesn’t hurt to take a look occasionally at his/her social media pages just to make sure the conversation is positive.
  • Behavior Changes — Pay close attention to how they behave after school or immediately after other activities that involve their peers. Though the effects of bullying are long-lasting, they should be most notable right after the incident. This includes online activities like social media or when they receive a text, Snapchat or email. If they appear nervous, seem agitated directly afterward, or are unwilling to share their online activity, they may be experiencing cyberbullying.
  • Mood Changes or Trouble Sleeping  — While mood changes can be a normal part of adolescence, it’s important to note if your child suddenly becomes sad, depressed, angry, frustrated, agitated or even stressed out, especially if there is no clear cause. Subsequently, these issues can trigger sleep problems, including trouble falling asleep, getting up in the morning, nightmares and bed wetting for younger children.
  • Declining Grades — A child’s changing attitude toward school can be one of the first signs of bullying. If they suddenly have a loss of interest or enthusiasm for school, this may be a sign of trouble. Some children who experience bullying may also see a decline in their grades. This includes falling behind in school work and refusing to talk about the events of the school day.
  • “I Don’t Feel Good” — Children who are bullied may show a recurring pattern of physical ailments, such as headaches or stomachaches. Whether the sickness is real or fake, it can be a sign of being bullied.
  • Socialization — A child’s friendships can change seemingly overnight, particularly during their teen years. However, parents should pay close attention if an overall pattern starts to emerge, like if your child becomes withdrawn and avoids peers, friends, family or social situations.

Take Action: Sometimes encountering a bully or cyberbully is inevitable, but there are safe ways to respond.

  • Make sure children know to tell an adult. 
  • Document all the facts. 
  • Report the cyberbully.  Many social media sites and online gaming networks give their users the option to report any negative or offensive posts, which may result in blocking users who violate the terms of service. Make sure you or your child reports the incident so that the site’s staff members can take the necessary disciplinary action and prevent the adverse behavior from happening again. If cyberbullying involves criminal activities, report the incident to local law enforcement. State laws require schools to have proper bullying prevention and response plans in place, so it is important that your child’s school be contacted if bullying creates a disruptive school environment.

The most important tool for parents in the fight against cyberbullying — or bullying in general — is to keep talking with your children about their activities, friends and social media conversations. Make it clear to them that you are ready to help them take a positive stand against a negative behavior if they ever experience or witness bullying.

— Jane Swan is principal of Reach Cyber Charter School.