Moving is stressful for children and can be full of emotional challenges. Leaving old friends behind and starting at a new school is hard enough, but if your child has to overcome cyberbullying on top of the emotional challenges of moving, it can be heartbreaking. As a parent, there are things you can do to help your child overcome a cyberbully as he or she adjusts to moving to a new city or state.
What is Cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying is the use of technology to harass, threaten, embarrass, or target another person. Sometimes cyberbullying is straightforward. For example, if a child receives a text, tweet, or Facebook comment that’s harsh, mean, or cruel. Other acts are less obvious, like impersonating a victim online or posting personal information, photos, or videos with the intent to hurt or embarrass someone else.
Bullying is vastly underreported, so it’s impossible to know exactly how many children are affected. However, recent studies have found that about one in four teens has been the victims of cyberbullying, and in some studies, more than half of the teens said that they’ve experienced cyberbullying.
Cyberbullying is different than pre-technology bullying because it doesn’t require face-to-face interaction; it can happen anywhere and at any time, 24 hours a day. As such, some victims feel like they can’t escape. Severe, long-term, or frequent cyberbullying increases the likelihood of developing anxiety, depression, and other stress-related disorders in both victims and bullies. The risk for suicidal thoughts, attempts, and completed suicides is also increased in both victims and bullies.
Preventing and Detecting Cyberbullying
To help protect your child, keep the computer, laptops, and tablets in a public place in the home. Place limits on all technology usage, including phones and tablets. Follow or become a friend on social media accounts, and check their posts and the sites visited. Talk to them about the importance of privacy, even in regards to friends.
Cyberbullying is underreported because many children don’t want to tell a teacher or parent because they feel ashamed of the social stigma or they fear that their computer privileges will be taken away. However, there are some signs to look for, such as your child being emotionally upset during or after using the Internet or the phone or being very secretive or protective of his or her digital life.
Your child may also want to stop using technology, avoid discussions about computer or cell phone activities, or become nervous or jumpy upon receiving an instant message, text, or email. Other signs include avoiding school or group gatherings, dropping grades, moodiness or agitation, and changes in sleep or appetite. Also, watch for sudden changes in friends.
Stepping In and Helping Your Child Deal with a Cyberbully
If you discover that your child is a victim of cyberbullying, be supportive and comforting. Ensure your child knows he or she isn’t to blame and that coming forward was the right thing to do. While you should alert the school about the situation, work out a plan with your child that makes you both feel comfortable. Remind your child to ignore the bully; responding only fuels the fire and can worsen the situation. However, your child should save threatening messages, pictures, and texts as evidence. Block the bully on all devices, and consider seeing a therapist or counselor at school.
Part of helping your child handle the emotional challenges of moving involves creating a stress-free home environment, which will also help ease some of the stress involved with being a victim of cyberbullying. For starters, find ways to healthily deal with your own stress. “When we’re stressed, it tells our children there’s something to fear. Our stress quickly becomes theirs, and it affects how our children develop,” warns Hey Sigmund. Try to stay upbeat, focus on the positives, and enjoy the moment. Keeping open communication with your child is also important.
Adjusting to a move is difficult, especially if the move is to a new city or state. Becoming the victim of cyberbullying while your child is trying to adjust only exacerbates his or her emotional challenges. Be aware of the signs and know how to handle the situation so that you can put an end to it quickly and help support your child through the process.