February 23, 2015

23 Scientific Ways to Stop Cyberbullying

Read more about Kids and Money

Cyberbullying can go viral within hours and leave a lasting mark on the victim. To stop it, read our list of 23 ways that you can protect your teen from cyberbullying.

© Pimkie (CC BY-SA 2.0) via Flickr

Social media has given kids a way of making and keeping friends that just didn’t exist more than a decade ago, but it’s also created a venue for cyberbullying, where making enemies is just as easy. This leaves parents struggling to keep up with the latest social media trends and knowing how to protect their children from embarrassment and harassment online.

How to recognize it

1. Supervise your child’s Internet activity
When it comes to Internet safety, the more supervision, the better. According to the National Crime Prevention Council, 27% of high school teenagers reported that their parents think they know what their kids are doing online, but they really don’t. In an annual study conducted by McAfee, the computer security provider, 45% of the youth surveyed said they would change their Internet behavior if they knew that their parents were watching (which indicates that almost half of teens are doing things that their parents don’t approve of). Experts advise parents to limit their child’s Internet use, put their computer in a public place like the living room, and follow them on their social media accounts. Giving your teenager free reign of the Internet at all hours of the day is asking for trouble and setting your child up to become an unwitting victim.

2. Pay attention to changes in behavior
Even if you have a trusting relationship with your child, teenagers always manage to keep a few secrets. Your child may not tell you that he’s being bullied for a variety of reasons. He might think you’ll make the problem worse, he may not want to be labeled a snitch, or he might be ashamed that it’s happening. The 2013 Indicators of School Crime and Safety Report revealed that only 26% of cyberbullying victims reported the bullying to an adult. As a parent, you should pay attention to the warning signs. Does your child seem depressed? Is he avoiding social activities with his friends? Is he eating less and engaging in destructive behavior? If so, it may be time to talk to your child about what’s going on in his social life.

3. Educate yourself
Twitter? Snapchat? Vine? If you don’t know what these things are, it’s time to brush up on your social media knowledge. Teenagers are web-savvy, and if you want to be able to keep up, you should be 10 steps ahead of them. In the report published by the National Crime Prevention Council, 37% of high school-age teenagers said they can prevent their parents from finding out what they do online. While you don’t want to spy on your child, you should know how to navigate her computer, how her preferred method of social media works, and how cyberbullies tend to operate.

How to stop it

4. Ask the cyberbully to stop
You might imagine a cyberbully as a cruel caricature from the movie Mean Girls, but many bullies won’t see themselves as they come across. In a study from the National Crime Prevention Council, 81% of teenagers believed that cyberbullies do it because they think that they’re being funny. The ones who truly are bullying out of ignorance may stop if they are asked by your child, in a calm and mature way, to cut out their harassment. In the same survey, 36% of the teens said that they used this method to stop a cyberbully from bothering them. However, if the cyberbullying continues, it may be necessary to take more extreme steps to end the harassing behavior.

5. Block the cyberbully from contacting your child
In some cases, direct confrontation may make the problem worse, so blocking the cyberbully from contacting your teen may be the best option. In a study from the National Crime Prevention Council, 70% of teens said they believe that blocking a cyberbully is an effective way to stop the harassment. It communicates to the cyberbully that he shouldn’t interact with your child and also prevents more harmful messages from reaching your child’s inbox. Of the cyberbullied victims in the study, 34% blocked the perpetrator.

6. Save all evidence
A victim’s first response to cyberbullying may be to delete the offending message so that they don’t have to think about it. This strategy may make her feel better in the short term, but deleting the evidence may actually hurt her case against the cyberbully if the problem escalates. You should save all evidence of cyberbullying in case you need to provide it to school officials, law enforcement, or a lawyer. Do this by taking a screen shot of the offensive material and keeping accurate records of each incident, citing the user name and date of each point of contact. Researchers based in England found that of the youths who were victimized by cyberbullying, 62% knew how to save evidence, but only 47% actually did it. This is where you come in. Your teenager may need your know-how and encouragement for keeping a trail of the cyberbullying.

7. Contact website moderators to remove the offensive material
If the cyberbullying your teen is experiencing takes place on a public forum where he can’t remove the offensive material himself, report the incident to moderators and ask for its removal. Facebook, Twitter, Myspace, and YouTube all have ways that you can report abuse to moderators, who will delete the offensive content or the cyberbully’s entire profile. In a focus group of 148 adolescents, researchers found that many teenagers are generally unaware of how to remove content from websites. It is possible and should be pursued to limit more damage to your child’s psyche.

8. Contact the cyberbully’s parents
Your teen may disagree, but contacting the cyberbully’s parents directly may help you nip the problem in the bud. A report published by the National Crime Prevention Council found that 92% of teen cyberbullying victims knew the person bullying them, and around half of the bullies were peers from school. If you live in a close-knit community where everyone knows each other’s name, it may help to contact the other child’s parents before involving other parties. Keep in mind that this method may not work out the way you want it to. After all, the bully must have learned her bad behavior from somewhere. But if you believe in a grassroots method of resolving conflicts, contacting the bully’s parents may be a viable method of addressing the issue.

9. Contact the school administrators
Cyberbullying might take place in the safety of your own home, but if the problem stemmed from school grounds, you could involve school administrators. At the moment, 22 states have laws that address cyberbullying, and 49 states require that schools have a policy against cyberbullying. Moreover, 14 states even require schools to address harassment that occurs outside of school. Your school administrators may be able to help you resolve the conflict and penalize the perpetrator.

10. Involve local law enforcement if the cyberbully is breaking the law
Sometimes cyberbullying can cross the line and become more than just hurtful words. If someone is making threats, blackmailing your child, or if it becomes sexual in nature, it’s time to involve local law enforcement. If the cyberbully is a peer from school, you can work in tandem with the school administration to contact local police. As stated above, 22 states have laws that address cyberbullying, and some states even criminalize the behavior. To find out the policies and laws in your state, check out the government anti-bullying website.

11. Contact an attorney
In a perfect world, cyberbullying could be put to a stop through a simple chat with the bully, the bully’s parents, or with a complaint filed with the school administration. However, if you feel that you’re being ignored or that your child is under a real threat, contacting a lawyer may help you file a restraining order or retribution. Depending on the nature of the cyberbullying, some cyberbullying is classified as a crime and can be punished by probation, a mandatory program, or deferred judgment.

How to punish cyberbullies

12. Take away the cyberbully’s cellphone and computer
If you’re seeking punishment for someone who has hurt your child or you want to establish prevention methods in your community, keep in mind that for teenagers, there’s nothing worse than being without their computer or cellphone. Limiting the usage of these tools cuts them off from their friends and curbs their social life, which is why it makes an effective punishment for cyberbullies. Without any way to contact their victims, cyberbullies can’t engage with them. In a survey conducted by Ellen M. Kraft and Jinchang Wang, most teens ranked this strategy as one of the top three best strategies to counter cyberbullying.

13. Look into prohibiting the cyberbully from using social media
Social media is a useful tool for teens to keep in touch with others and share important moments in life with online friends. Unfortunately, it’s also the medium that cyberbullies use to harass other people. For cyberbullies, social media can be a trigger. When people are transparent with the intimate details of their lives, cyberbullies find it easy to take advantage of their vulnerability. In the Kraft and Wang study, most of the offenders surveyed believe that prohibiting a cyberbully from having a social media account is the most effective way to stop them.

14. Require community service
Most researchers agree that community service is an appropriate way to punish juvenile offenders of cyberbullying. Victims from the Kraft and Wang study stated that 20 hours of mandatory community service is a fitting punishment for cyberbullies. It gives them a way to understand the gravity of their offense and take personal responsibility for their offenses.

15. Require offenders to take “netiquette” classes
Another popular intervention method is to require cyberbullies to attend netiquette classes. As stated before, some cyberbullies don’t even realize that what they’re doing qualifies as bullying. Netiquette classes can show them how to respect boundaries and how to form positive relationships with their peers online. In a study of deviant Internet behavior, O. Freestone and V.W. Mitchell found that netiquette classes had a moderating effect on cyberbullying because it teaches people to have a better awareness of appropriate Internet behavior.

16. Require punishment from school administration
Some schools have taken a zero tolerance stance on cyberbullying. Offenders can have their school privileges revoked, be suspended, expelled, or even have college postponed. These types of punishments are utilized at the discretion of the school administrators, who sometimes find themselves in the difficult position of protecting students’ right to free speech while still protecting them from bullying. The students surveyed by Kraft and Wang who admitted to cyberbullying believe that having a written zero tolerance policy at school would deter people from cyberbullying. As a parent, you may need to provide more encouragement and evidence to school administrators to make sure that the offender receives a just punishment.

17. Require counseling
Not all cyberbullies are cruel and heartless. Adolescents face huge amounts of pressure from their parents and school, and those who engage in cyberbullying have their own set of issues, like low self-esteem or depression. True cyberbullies should be punished for their actions, but compassion and understanding can go a long way toward prevention. Many therapists believe that cognitive behavioral therapy can help cyberbullies get to the bottom of their issues and teach them empathy so that they can have healthy relationships, online and offline. Without the proper intervention, cyberbullies may never address the root of the problem, and a teenage bully can turn into an adult bully.

How to prevent it

18. Talk to your teen about online privacy
Social media is the perfect platform for teens to create the persona they always wished they could be. Adults and teenagers alike use social media to indulge in their narcissism, but sharing too much information can have dire consequences. Talk to your teen about the importance of privacy and warn her about oversharing personal information and photos, which cyberbullies use to taunt or impersonate victims. According to McAfee’s 2014 Teens and the Screen Study, 61% of the teens haven’t adjusted their privacy settings on their social media profiles, which means complete strangers can see their virtual life. Teens need to be educated about the long-lasting nature of what they post online and the dangers of posting revealing images.

19. Teach your children to manage their online reputation
We’ve all done impulsive things in our youth, but most of our mistakes were relegated to real life, where scandalous things were eventually forgotten. On the Internet, mistakes can live on long after your teen has pressed the delete button. Talking to your children about their online reputation can prevent them from posting content that could be used by cyberbullies to harass, impersonate, or blackmail them. In the McAfee study, 49% of teens expressed regret over something they posted online. Another study, conducted by the Pew Research Center, indicates that teens actively manage their online reputation, with 57% stating that they refrained from posting something out of concern for their reputation. Talking with your children can ensure that they’re in the 57% of those who think before they post.

20. Advocate for antibullying programs in school
Many antibullying programs have shown promise in preventing cyberbullying among middle and high school students. The Olweus Antibullying Program strives to improve relationships between students, support victims of bullying, and provide effective interventions for bullies. Another program implemented at the elementary school level, called Steps to Respect, was shown to improve schools’ bullying problems in 5 out of 13 measures by creating a more empathetic culture, teaching teachers to monitor for bullying, and helping children manage their emotions. If your teen’s school doesn’t have an antibullying program or zero tolerance policy on bullying, maybe you should advocate for one in your community.

21. Teach your child not to engage in risk-taking behaviors online
Taking risks is a natural part of growing up, but just because your teenager’s risk-taking behaviors are limited to his virtual life doesn’t make it less dangerous. A group of researchers surveyed 1,500 teenagers to find out what kinds of risky behaviors teens were engaging in online. Nearly half (45%) of the youths said that they interacted with strangers online, 26% sent their personal info to strangers, 13% visited X-rated sites, and 5% talked about sex with strangers. If your child is engaging in such behaviors without your knowledge, cyberbullying may be the least of your worries. Starting a dialogue about responsible behavior online will help your teenager exercise caution, even under the veil of supposed anonymity.

22. Teach your child not to be a bystander
If your children are lucky, they’ll never have to experience the harmful effects of cyberbullying, but that doesn’t mean that they’re off the hook. According to the McAfee study, 87% of teens have been a witness to cyberbullying. An important part of preventing cyberbullying is to teach your child not to be a silent bystander. Teach your children the dangers of cyberbullying and make sure they don’t become a part of the problem by participating in the bullying or passing along viral messages to their peers. They should also learn to speak up when necessary if they see an incident of cyberbullying. The National Crime Prevention Council’s study found that 62% of teens think cyberbullying could be prevented if people refused to pass along cyberbully messages, and 56% believe everybody should hold their friends accountable to prevent cyberbullying in the future.

23. Talk to your child about cyberbullying
Cyberbullying has become so normalized that it may be hard for your children to recognize when they’re being bullied. They should know the type of behavior that shouldn’t be tolerated and that you’re there to help and support them. Impersonating someone, making threats, gossiping, sharing another person’s personal information, outing someone, or harassing someone are just some examples of cyberbullying that can be masked as good-natured teasing. The fact is, many parents grossly underestimate the level of cyberbullying in their children’s lives. In a study published by the Journal of Commuter Mediated Communication, only 11% of parents thought their children were victims of cyberbullying, but 30% of teenagers reported being a victim. Fewer than 5% of parents thought that their child had engaged in cyberbullying, but 15% of teenagers admitted to doing it. The cyberbullying conversation can help your teenager avoid being a victim, or even a cyberbully himself.

Cassy Perera is a contributing writer at CreditDonkey, a credit card comparison and reviews website. Write to Cassy Perera at cassy@creditdonkey.com

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