Cyber bullying is the most important parental buzzword of the digital age. Thousands of kids are harassed online every day, and that figure is only likely to grow in the coming years.
The Internet is essentially the ideal bully’s tool. It’s a proven fact that bullies of all ages are – at their core – cowards. The web provides these cowards with an anonymous tool for vicious harassment. Facebook, Twitter and other social networks have only made the bully’s task that much easier.
It’s a sad fact that a much higher percentage of hateful people are willing to torment victims if they feel they can remain hidden behind a screen name. Just the introduction of an intermediary like a computer screen seems to be enough of a shield to send some bullies diving into the fray.
It can be very sad and difficult for parents to accept the fact their child is being bullied, but make no mistake about it: denial helps no one. Bullying is a life and death matter. If you find out or even suspect that your child is being bullied online, you need to take steps to correct the matter before it escalates out of control.
The first and most important step is identifying that there’s a problem to begin with. Experts have identified several symptoms of cyber bullying that parents should be on the lookout for. If your son or daughter doesn’t share details about his or her online life, take the time to determine if one or more of these symptoms is present: sleep disturbances, lack of appetite, unexplained mood swings, anti-social behavior, loss of friends, poor performance in school, depression, psychosomatic illness, changes in computer behavior (spending more or less time online than usual).
If any of those symptoms sound familiar and you believe that your child has become the target of online harassment, you need to sit down and have a frank discussion with him or her. Tell your son or daughter not to respond the bullies in kind, but rather to keep meticulous notes and records of abuse in case you need proof later down the road. If bullying amounts to criminal harassment, contact police and present a dated catalogue of the abuse.
Don’t be afraid to use Urban Dictionary to translate the lingo exchanged online between kids. Sometimes it seems like kids have their own language. Words that may seem innocuous or even nonsensical to you may actually have a deeply offensive meaning. Figure out what’s really being said.
If you don’t want to inform police, it’s your duty as a parent to inform schools. Most middle and secondary schools have taken a hard-line stance against all bullying. Even if the bullying goes on outside of school, the school administrators will make it their business. Any time a student’s behavior causes another student to feel unsafe or uncomfortable at school, the school district will take up the issue. Repeat Internet defamation offenders should be suspended or even expelled.