Most of us are now familiar with the term “cyberbullying,” which is essentially bullying through electronic technology. This includes, but is not limited to, social media sites, gaming sites, text messaging and email. The National Crime Prevention Council reported in 2011 that cyberbullying is a problem that affects almost half of all American teens.
Theresa Mills, M.D. of the Austin Diagnostic Clinic (ADC) explains that developmentally, the adolescent years are a time when children are identifying themselves more strongly with their peer groups and that interpersonal relationships outside the home become more important than they were in the early school years. A blow to that identity or bond, in the form of a humiliating photo on Facebook or an attack that turns peers and friends against a teen, can therefore have devastating effects. She recommends warning your kids to protect their privacy online and to protect their passwords; make sure they know to log out of accounts when they step away from a computer; and to monitor your child’s online activity and be honest with him or her about it.
Parents should ask teens to alert them immediately if they or someone they know is being harassed or bullied, whether in person or online. Teach your child not to respond to harassing or bullying comments, but do keep track of them – as a parent, it may be wise to keep copies of emails or take screen shots of offending material so that it cannot be erased or deleted if needed later. Help your child to block people who post, text or email this kind of material. Report the offense to the cell provider, internet provider or social media site – they all have terms of service (TOS), which may allow the offender to be permanently blocked from access to the site. And certain types of cyberbullying are criminal and should be reported to law enforcement, including threats of violence, sexually suggestive material and certain types of photos. You can learn more about how to prevent and stop this problem for teens by visiting stopbullying.gov.