Did you notice an abrupt and unnatural change in the behavior of your child?
Has your child become aggressive or cranky off late?
Does your child avoid social gatherings and prefer isolation?
Have you ever heard the word cyberbullying?
Before we proceed further to discuss types of cyberbullying and how to protect your child from it, let us first understand what is cyberbullying.
What is Cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying is a term referred to address the form of harassment that is done using electronic and digital devices such as computers, laptops, smartphones, and tablets. Bullies use different platforms such as social media, gaming platforms, and video and message sharing apps, etc. to target the victim.
Cyberbullying involves posting hateful or nasty comments, spreading rumors, and hurting the victim with the intention to cause humiliation or character assassination. A majority of school students face cyberbullying but do not share it with their parents. In fact, protecting children from this form of bullying is one of the most critical problems faced by parents of school students.
If we look at the statistics, a study conducted by Symantec states that 8 out of 10 people in India are subject to one or the other form of cyberbullying. Out of these 8 people, 63% faced abuses and insults and 59% were subjected to false rumors and gossip intended to character assassinate the victim. The research also highlights the fact that India is facing the highest number of cyberbullying cases in the Asia Pacific Region.
Increased use of smartphones, Improved connectivity to data and social media presence are all contributing to the growth of cyberbullying incidents in India. A majority of individuals including children possess smartphones and laptops. Children are addicted to social media platforms such as Instagram, Snapchat, etc. where they share their pictures and videos. This exposes them to an increased risk of cyberbullying.
Keeping children away from these devices is one of the biggest challenges working parents face today. They are always not available to monitor the activities of the child and are forced to leave the child on his own without any supervision. The child is alone at home and turns towards social media and gaming platforms to pass time. Children are easy targets for cyberbullying because online gaming and social media platforms are full of bullies waiting for vulnerable targets.
Most of the children facing cyberbullying do not open up to their parents due to the fear of being scolded. They hide the matter until it turns serious or ugly. Children tend to become aggressive, timid, isolated and avoid social interaction, which causes problems between parents and children. As a parent, it is your responsibility to identify any behavioral changes in children and find out the underlying cause for such changes.
Understanding different types of cyberbullying will enable you to take the right measures to prevent the problem.
Types of Cyberbullying
Any activity that intends to humiliate a person or malign his character using digital media comes under the purview of cyberbullying. Some common types of cyberbullying are
- Posting online comments or rumors that hurt the sentiments of a person or malign his/her character
- Uploading an embarrassing photo or video of a person without his/her consent to humiliate them on an online platform
- Creating a fake web page of a person without informing him and posting rumors and gossip about that person
- Issuing threats online to provoke a person to hurt himself or other persons, or commit suicide
- Posting hate comments to promote racial, religious, ethnic or political hatred towards a person
- Faking identity to gather personal information of a person and posting it online to harass him/her
- Collecting personal information about a person from his social media accounts and online profiles and using it to defame the person online or harass him. (also known as doxing)
- Exclusion from groups, message threads or online conversations with mutual friends that makes the person feel left out or excluded
- Framing or using a person’s social media accounts to post obscene and inappropriate content in order to ruin their image
- Posting content with an intention to incite a person into ugly online spats
There are many other forms of cyberbullying, which are difficult to identify and report. As parents, it is your responsibility to monitor the social media accounts, emails and other digital devices of your child to identify any sort of bullying and protect the child from it.
Understanding the different types of cyberbullying will help you stand up against the bullies and protect your child from this ugly problem.
Effects of Cyberbullying
Traditional forms of bullying happen when the bully and victim are face to face and know each other. But in cyberbullying, it is not necessary for the victim to know the bully. Digital devices and social media allow anonymity, which provides strength to the bullies. They hide under fake profiles or remain incognito to wreck menace in the lives of victims. Identifying these bullies and reporting them is one of the toughest problems faced by parents of school students in this generation.
Cyberbullying can happen anywhere and at any place until the victim has access to a digital device such as a smartphone or a laptop. The children being subjected to this feeling that they are helpless and victimized and can resort to drastic measures to come out of the situation. This causes problems between parents and children as the parents are unable to comprehend the reasons for the sudden change in the child’s behavior.
The effects of cyberbullying are severe and long-term. Children develop anxiety, depression and other mental health disorders when subjected to frequent episodes of cyberbullying. In extreme cases, some children have suicidal tendencies and may also resort to suicide as they are unable to handle the online humiliation and shame.
Another negative effect of cyberbullying include lowered standards of academic performance as children who are victims of cyberbullying avoid going to school. As the bully spreads false information about the child, they fear humiliation from their peers at school, which happens most of the time. They come up with weird excuses to avoid going to school or lie to their parents that they are going to school while they are actually going to some other places. This makes them fall into bad company and may also lead to drug and alcohol addiction or substance abuse.
Some other effects of cyberbullying include
- Feeling overwhelmed as the child is unable to handle the pressure and shame caused by the bully.
- Feeling vulnerable as the child feels that there is no place to escape from the bully.
- The child may feel exploited and violated as personal information or nasty comments about the child are shared online with multitudes of people.
- Feeling shameful and resorting to instances of self-harm.
- A general disinterest in life as the child feels helpless to fight with the bully.
- Loss of confidence and self-esteem
- Feeling physically ill due to the stress of coping with the bully. Most children subjected to cyberbullying complain of stomach aches, headaches, and other stress-related illnesses.
If you observe anyone or a few of these behavior changes in your children, you should immediately check their social media profiles and digital devices for signs of cyberbullying. If the child refuses to cooperate, you can take help from professionals like counselors and child psychiatrists.
Unfortunately, most of the children who are cyberbullied do not prefer to share their ordeal with their parents. There are many reasons for such behavior. Sometimes the kid does not understand that he/she is being bullied. Even when they realize, they are afraid to share it with their parents because they fear the parents will cutaway access to digital gadgets. Other times the bully may threaten the child with dire consequences if he/she shares the incident with anyone.
In such a scenario finding out that the child is being bullied is the biggest challenge working parents face. Though the problem also exists for families with one stay-at-home parent, it is more prevalent when both the parents are working.
Your child may not explicitly tell you when he/she is bullied. But certain signs are telltale signs to identify cyberbullying.
Signs of Being a Victim of Cyberbullying
- The child may suddenly stop using digital gadgets without any obvious reason
- He/she prefers not to use their gadgets when you are around
- The child switches off the gadget or changes screens when you try to peep
- The kid seems anxious or nervous whenever there is a message, mail or text
- The child may not be willing to share their passwords and social media ids with you
- He/she keeps changing the passwords often
- He/she may vaguely suggest cyberbullying by making general statements about harassment or bullying
- The child makes weird excuses to avoid going to school
- The kid may be uncomfortable to attend social gatherings especially where his friends are present
- The child may become withdrawn and isolated
If your preteen or teenager exhibits a few of these signs, it is time to consult a professional counselor. It also helps to have open communication with the child to make him/her comfortable sharing any problems. As parents, you should not be judgmental but provide comfort and assurance to the child that the issue will be handled in a mature way. You should provide the child confidence that the bully will not be able to inflict any damage and he/she will be dealt with in a proper manner with the help of competent authorities.
It helps to have close monitoring of the child’s online activity to prevent instances of cyberbullying or deal with it at an early stage. However, most children do not like their parents meddling with their online profiles or social media accounts, which is one of the main problems faced by parents of school students.
To avoid the constant bickering at home about the use of digital devices and social media platforms, it is advisable to have a discussion with the child. Explain to him/her about the dangers of excessive use of digital media. Equip them with proper advice about protecting them from online exploitation. You should instruct them not to entertain any friend requests from unknown people or share photos or videos that may give out their identity and other personal details to people at large.
Prevention is better than cure. It always helps to protect the child rather than face the ill-effects of cyberbullying.
Tips To Prevent Cyberbullying
- Do not allow your children to use computers and mobiles in their bedrooms. Place the computer in a common area where you can keep a watch on their online activity.
- Educate yourself about the working of various social media apps such as Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, Tiktok, etc. Request the children to show their profiles once in a while.
- Have discussions about various incidents of online bullying. Assure your children that you are always there for them.
- Work on ways to build a good rapport and trust with the child. Once your child feels that he/she can trust you, they will not hesitate to share any problems or issues troubling them.
- Set limits for the use of digital gadgets. Involve the child while framing rules and limits. Ask for their opinions and explain your reasons. If they feel a part of the process, they are more likely to follow the rules.
- Do not threaten to take away the smartphone or laptop of the child, when he/she complains of being bullied.
Bullying has to be dealt with iron fists. Bullying has a lot of severe effects on children and may sometimes push them to the extreme. They may develop suicidal tendencies or harm themselves. Some children may resort to aggressive or defiant behavior causing problems between the parent and the child.
Cyberbullying is difficult to identify due to its unlimited scope. Apart from reporting the issue to authorities, you should also offer support to the child, when your child is subjected to cyberbullying.
To handle the increasing cases of cyberbullying, the Government of India and the Ministry of Women and Child Development have launched a helpline to report cases of cyberbullying and online stalking or cyber harassment.
You can report at email@example.com if your child is being cyberbullied.
Though there are no specific anti-cyberbullying laws in India, the victims may be punished under the following cyber laws.
- Sec 66 A – sending offensive messages through communication services, social media, etc.
- Sec 66 C – Identity theft
- Sec 66 D – cheating by impersonation by using digital media
- Sec 66 E – the violation of privacy
- Sec 67 B – publishing or transmitting content that depicts children in sexually explicit acts using electronic media
- Sec 72 – breach of privacy and confidentiality
- Sec 503 Indian Penal Code – using email to send threatening messages
- Sec 509 Indian Penal code – insulting the modesty of a woman using words, gestures or obscene acts
- Sec 499 Indian Penal code – sending defamatory messages via email
- Sec 500 Indian Penal code – email abuse
You can report cyberbullying to the district helpline or contact the cybercrime cell in your city to report instances of cyberbullying of your children or relatives.
You have to maintain a record of the chats, messages, pictures and other content used by the bully. Use these records as evidence when you file a complaint against the bully.
Social media sites have taken the issue of cyberbullying seriously. They have come up with strict guidelines to prevent bullying on their platforms. Here are some ways to report bullying online.
Social media Platforms
If your child is bullied on social media or on websites, you can go to the company’s site and report the instance. Most of these apps and websites have a report section to provide measures to protect a person from bullying and abuse. You can block the bully and change the security settings of the profile.
Text messages or Phone
Contact your service provider to report the issue if the child is harassed or bullied over the phone, Whatsapp or text message. The mobile service provider will block the number of the bully or offer other anti-bullying support.
Steps To Support Your Child In the Aftermath of Cyberbullying
Along with reporting the incident to the competent authorities, you should also provide support to the child to regain his/her self-confidence after being a victim of this horrific menace.
Sign-off the Computer
Ask the child to sign-off the computer, ignore the attacks and walk away.
Do Not Retaliate
Bullies always want to get a retaliation or angry reaction from their victims. Ignoring them and not showing any signs of hurt or anger is the best way to handle cyberbullies.
Block the Bully
Most of the social media apps and texting apps give you the facility to block some contacts. If a person is harassing you online, remove his id from your friends’ list or block his number from your phone.
Talk to an Adult
Encourage the child to talk to an adult. It can be one or both parents, teachers, school counselor or wellness coaches. Talking to a trusted adult will help the child to vent out his anger and frustration. The adult can offer support and guidance to the child on how to handle the bully and overcome the effects of cyberbullying.
Explain its not Their Fault
When a child confides to you about being bullied online, assure them that it is not their fault. Explain in clear words that bullying is a sign of weakness on the part of the bully, and they are not at fault for being vulnerable and soft targets.
Apart from protecting the child from cyberbullying, you should also take steps to ensure that your child does not turn to be a cyberbully. Children are the main offenders in the majority of the cases of cyberbullying. They resort to using online channels and digital media to shame their counterparts.
Signs That Indicate Your Child is Resorting to Cyberbullying
- The kid starts using digital devices for more time than his/her regular viewing hours.
- The child uses his smartphone or a laptop for a major part of his/her free time.
- The child may change screens or shut down the device when you move around or peep into the device.
- He/she may become anxious when you take his/her device or talk about cutting off access.
- The child may become more secretive.
- He/she may prefer to spend time with a group of friends and ignore others.
- The child may be uncomfortable when you discuss issues about cyberbullying.
Tips to Prevent Your Child from being a Bully
It is shocking for many parents to discover that their child is a cyberbully. But as parents, it is our duty to educate the child about the ill-effects and negative consequences of bullying others. Here are some tips to prevent your child from being a cyberbully.
Sometimes the child does not recognize that he is part of a group that is resorting to cyberbullying. They innocently forward messages and jokes about other children. Maintaining an ongoing dialogue helps to educate the child about bullying.
Educate children about different types of bullying in an appropriate manner. Teach them to differentiate between harmless joking and harassing behavior.
Tell Them the Importance of Standing Up
Let the children learn about standing up for themselves and for others against cyberbullying. This will discourage them from being part of groups that harass other children online. Teach them not to be bystanders.
Make Them Aware of the Punishment
You can discourage children from resorting to bullying behavior by making them aware of the punishment and negative consequences of bullying.
Related Read: How to Get Rid of Mobile Addiction for Your Child?
Identify Change in Behavior and Get Help
Closely watch the behavior of your child and notice any changes. Sometimes the child may resort to bullying to vent out his anger or frustration. If you feel that your child is a cyberbully, get professional help.
Cyberbullying is a horrific crime that wreaks havoc in the lives of children. It has a number of negative consequences and alters the behavior of children. When parents are unaware of the underlying reason for the change in behavior and it leads to problems between the parent and child. It is the responsibility of parents to develop trust and confidence in the child so that he/she can confide in them about any issues.
Protecting children from the harmful effects of cyberbullying is the key problem faced by parents of school students. Observing children, discussing problems and providing support are some ways through which you can empower children to handle cyberbullying. When you discover that your child is a victim of cyberbullying, help is at hand. You can report the instance to the social media sites, cybercrime cell or cybercrime helpline.
While protecting children from cyberbullying is important, it is also equally important to prevent them from cyberbullies. You should keep a close watch on their online behavior. if you observe the child is part of a bully group, alert him/her about the negative consequences of bullying to prevent your child from being a bully.