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What is cyberbullying and how can I prevent it?

Cyberbullying is a problem of the digital era. We’ll explain what it is and how you can teach your children to avoid it.

By Common Sense Latino


What is cyberbullying?

Cyberbullying is the use of digital media (such as the Internet and text messages) to make another person feel angry, sad, or scared, usually repeatedly.

Some examples of cyberbullying are sending hurtful instant messages in a chat, posting photos or embarrassing videos on social media and spreading rumors online.

If you’re trying to find out if your child is a victim of cyberbullying, ask yourself if the offender is intentionally and repeatedly doing harm. If the answer is no, the offender may simply need to learn better online behavior. If the answer is yes, take it seriously.


How can I prevent cyberbullying?

General Advice

As soon as your children begin to go online, it’s important for you to explain your expectations of their behavior. By acting responsibly and respectfully, they can enjoy their time online and get the best of the Internet and largely avoid cyberbullying and inappropriate content. Here’s some basic advice you can give your child:

Communicate appropriately.
Use the proper language for the situation. You probably don’t write to your teacher in the same tone you write to your friends. And remember that using all caps means that you’re shouting, so don’t do it!

Keep private things private.
Don’t share information such as passwords, your home address, inappropriate images and gossip.

Respect others.
Be courteous and if you disagree with something, say it in a friendly way.

Don’t lie, don’t steal, don’t cheat.
Don’t try to deceive others, remember to give credit where credit is due, and though it’s easy to copy others’ don’t download anything without permission and don’t use game cheat codes.

Give support to someone who needs it.
If someone you know is a victim of cyberbullying, take their side. You would want that person to do the same thing for you.

Report bad behavior.
The Internet is a huge community and it’s impossible for everything to be perfect. Use online tools to report inappropriate content.

Follow your family’s rules.
If your parents tell you to avoid certain webpages or to stop texting after a certain time, listen to them. The more responsible you are, the more privileges you’ll get.

Think before you post, send messages and share.
Consider how you and others might feel after you post something. It’s not always easy to take back something you’ve said online and what you do online can stay online for a long time.


Advice for elementary school children

Keep online socializing to a minimum.
Let your children use websites where messages are prewritten or filtered before they are sent.

Explain basic concepts of appropriate online behavior.
Tell your children that lying, telling secrets and being cruel are as hurtful online as in person.

Tell them not to share passwords with their friends.
One of the forms of Internet bullying is that children log in to someone else’s email or social media and send false messages or post embarrassing comments. Children can protect themselves from this if they learn from the start that passwords are private and should only be shared with their parents.


Advice for middle school children and adolescents

Control their use of devices.
Look at what they are posting, review their text messages every now and then, and let them know that you’re monitoring their activities.

Tell them what to do if they are victims of cyberbullying.
They shouldn’t respond or retaliate; they should block whoever is attacking them immediately and inform you or an adult they trust. They should not erase the messages, because in ongoing cases, the content can be reported to the cell phone provider, service provider or social media.

If your child is the cyberbully, establish strict consequences and enforce them.
Your child should understand that it is unacceptable for them to make cruel or sexual comments about teachers, friends and relatives.

Explain that any private information can be made public.
Posts on friends’ walls, private instant messages, intimate photos and jokes can be cut and pasted and posted for thousands or even millions of people. If they don’t want the entire world to see something, they shouldn’t post it or send it.

Don’t start what they don’t want to finish.
Online game chats and virtual worlds can quickly turn ugly. Make sure that your children are respectful, because hurtful retaliation happens all the time. Consider limiting chats to communication with people they know or block them entirely if that’s what is needed.


Advice for high school students

Tell your children to think before sharing.
At this age, adolescents experiment with everything, and a lot of that should not be made public knowledge. Anything they post could be used improperly by someone else.

Remind them that they’re not too big to ask you for help.
There are things that some adolescents can manage on their own, but sometimes they just need help. Asking parents for help is not childish; it’s safe.


How common is cyberbullying?

It’s hard to say exactly how common cyberbullying is among kids, because every study measures cyberbullying differently. The definition of cyberbullying also varies. One thing that’s certain is that all kids who are online are at risk of cyberbullying.

Some kids are more vulnerable to cyberbullying than others, and it happens more often to girls, disabled children, LGBTQ and obese children. Cyberbullying can occur wherever kids go online. Apps that allow users to remain anonymous, such as Kik and Yik Yak, have been linked to well-known cyberbullying cases.

Fortunately, some companies are changing the policies to try to curb online harassment. Instagram allows its users to eliminate unwanted comments from their posts, Twitter is developing a tool to filter negative words, and Kik introduced safer configurations in its chat to reduce this kind of problem.

It’s never too early to talk with your children about cyberbullying and to teach them how to be good digital citizens. Whether your child is a victim, a witness or even the aggressor, talk with her or him about how to change the situation.


What can I tell my kids if they are bullied online?

Kids often don’t understand the difference between jokes and cyberbullying. In other cases, children may be embarrassed to talk about the subject with their parents. This is why it’s important to talk with kids about their online behavior before they start interacting with others through their cell phones, tablets or computers. Share the following steps that your kids can take immediately if you know they’ve been victims of cyberbullying or to prepare them for it:

Turn off the computer.
Ignore the attacks and walk away from the cyberbully.

Don’t respond or retaliate.
If you’re upset or hurt, you might say something that you’ll regret afterwards. Cyberbullies often seek just that – a strong reaction, so don’t play their game.

Block the bully.
If you receive hurtful messages through a chat such as WhatsApp or through a social network like Facebook or Twitter, eliminate them from your list of friends/followers. You can also eliminate messages from bullies without reading them.

Store and print messages from bullies.
If the harassment continues, keep the evidence. This could be important so you can have proof for your parents and teachers if the cyberbullying continues.

Talk with a friend.
When someone makes you feel bad, sometimes it helps to talk about it with a friend.

Tell an adult you trust.
An adult you trust is someone you believe will listen to you and who has the skills, desire and authority to help you. Telling an adult about the situation doesn’t mean you’re gossiping, it means that you’re looking out for your own well-being, and even though it may occur online, your school probably has rules against cyberbullying.

When does “kid stuff” become cyberbullying?

As you know, children like to use the Internet and cell phones to chat, send emails, see videos, play and do their homework. However, sometimes the language they use among themselves can be coarse or insulting. It’s important for children to understand that their words can hurt others, either in person or online, even if that was not their intention.

Intent is the most important distinction between “normal” problems that occur among children, and cyberbullying. Sometimes insults are exchanged with no harmful intent, but when people use the Internet or text messages with a clear intent to hurt someone else, repeatedly, that’s cyberbullying.

Whatever the case may be, if someone says or does something that hurts your kid, your kid should talk with an adult. And if your kid hurts someone, he or she should apologize.


See what HITN Learning has been doing to help middle school kids talk about, write about, and make videos about cyberbullying