Bullying has often been an issue for children to deal with and parents to understand. The popularity of the Internet and social media make this an even greater challenge. Sometimes at a loss for what to do, parents look to legislation, education, monitoring and control as important ways to help.
The Impact of Cyberbullying on Children
Unlike face-to-face bullying which ends when a child leaves school, cyberbullying is something they can’t get away from. It is ever present through social media, emails and text messages.
Anxiety can turn to depression as the child continues to be bullied. They can begin to withdraw from social contact as they become afraid to answer the phone, look at their text messages or engage with their friends on the social media.
As a CNN report states, the child feels helpless to do anything. They may turn their back on the social media they relied on to stay in touch with friends. But they know that the bullies are continuing to post negative things about them. If allowed to completely withdraw from contact, thoughts of suicide can even come up for the child.
Cyberbullying can escalate the impact on children. It may not take weeks of this activity for the child to suffer. In a recent incident of cyberbullying reported by ABC News, a teenage girl saw pictures of herself that had been posted online. She chose to end her life. There was no time for adults or friends to come to her aid.
The Legislative Approach to Cyberbullying
New Jersey passed the Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights in 2011 and, according to NJ.com news, it is facing challenges from both the victims and the accused. The legislation tries to deal with the online harassment issue as if it were a clear-cut criminal offense. Parents say that it is excess punishment for children who may have only done something “stupid” with no long-term intent.
School administration becomes involved in these bullying complaints and can enact their own forms of punishment such as detention or suspension. With the bullying happening on the social media pages when the children are not at school, the question becomes how much authority the school has over this.
Parents appealed to the court when their child was accused of cyberbullying stating that it is unfair to have this on the child’s record as they grow up. In one case, a superintendent stated that the bullying charge will be a part of the child’s school records permanently and also must be reported to the state.
Legislation is meant to dissuade people from engaging in inappropriate behavior. But while most states now have anti-bullying laws, they have not been around long enough to validate their effectiveness (Christian Science Monitor). The laws are often different from state to state in their definition of bullying behavior. They also don’t distinguish between a genuine intent to cause harm versus bad teenage behavior.
How Parents Prevent Cyberbullying
The first step for parents is to look for changes in their child’s behavior. Changes in their eating, sleeping and studying habits can be a sign of bullying. Withdrawing from social contacts, a lack of interest in the computer and phone, and even being jumpy when the phone rings can indicate a real fear in your child being bullied.
A Fox News report suggests getting the child’s account information for their social media sites if they are being harassed online. Perpetrators should be blocked from making posts. If the harassment continues, screen shots or posts and phone text messages should be brought up to parents, the school and legal authorities.
This intervention works only if the child confides in the parent to begin with. It is nearly impossible for a parent to control everything a child is confronted with. Parents can also monitor and filter as much negative media and entertainment as possible. According to Rasertech.com, most cable and satellite TV plans offer more than 200 channels. These services also offer parental controls to make sure only positive and age-appropriate content is being viewed by your child.
Parents can create a channel of communication with their child by respecting their feelings and acknowledging that they face their own challenges. When a child feels heard, and that their feelings are seen as important, they may feel more comfortable opening up to the parent about any bullying experiences.