3 Things Parents Should Do If A Child Is Being Cyberbullied

October 28, 2013

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Posted in: Families, Hot Topics

In my clinical practice, I’m often asked by the parents of my patients what they should do if they suspect their child is being cyberbullied.  It’s a common problem without a clear solution, but there are steps parents and kids can take together to push back on bullies.

1.  Cyberbullying Should Not Be Ignored

Cyberbullying affects almost all of American teens, according to the National Crime Prevention Council.  Cyberbullying comes in many forms, but most commonly:

  • Pretending to be someone else in order to trick someone
  • Telling untrue stories or rumors about another person
  • Sending mean, vulgar, or threatening messages or images
  • Posting someone’s picture without his or her consent

Cyberbullying is more intrusive than traditional bullying.  A child can flee a schoolyard bully just by leaving, but that won’t work in cyberspace.  Texts, Facebook posts and tweets reach victims at home, at school and in the community.  Victims have few places to hide unless they disconnect from technology altogether, which can cause or fuel a sense of isolation. The nameless nature can also make the cyberbullies bolder, sending more hateful and hurtful strokes.  Kids with mental illness may be particularly vulnerable to cyberbullying; parents of these kids should have regular discussions with them about online activity.

2.  Parents And Kids Can Work Together To Restore Safety

So what’s a parent to do? It may not be possible to make a child bully-proof, but here are some ideas:

  • Remind your child to not open email or accept instant messages from unknown senders.
  • Take a picture of the screen of the email or message, and save it as evidence—especially if the message is threatening to you.  It will help the authorities in their investigation.
  • Block communication with the cyberbully.  Delete email messages without reading them. Share your concerns about the bullying with a trusted friend, or better, a parent.
  • Don’t reply to any bullying or disturbing message(s).
  • Tell an authority figure at once if a threatening message shows up.
  • Educate yourself about Internet safety and how to deal with cyberbullying at http://www.stopcyberbullying.org and http://www.wiredsafety.org.

3.  Before Confronting A Bully, Make A Plan Together

When parents learn that their child is being cyberbullied, they are usually angry, and tempted to seek justice for their child by calling the police or confronting the bully’s parents.  However, kids often resist their parents’ efforts for fear of retaliation or making the situation worse.  Parents should collect the facts by talking through the situation with their child, work out a plan together, and agree on what the outcome should be.  The plan should also include a series of steps that they will take, should the bullying continue—i.e. calling the school, police, or Internet service provider.

Tristan Gorrindo, M.D.

Tristan Gorrindo, M.D.

Tristan Gorrindo, M.D. is the director of education for the American Psychiatric Association (APA) in Washington, D.C. He was formerly the managing director of The Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard M...

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