How to Deal with a Cyberbully
It’s heart wrenching and painful. It’s a nightmare. You’ve just discovered your child is being terrorized by a cyberbully. Cyberbullying occurs when someone repeatedly and intentionally harasses, mistreats, or makes fun of another person through digital means. Usually, this happens on social media or through text messages. Threats and name-calling are the go-to tactics of cyberbullies. They may also create online accounts in your child’s name and pretend to be your child. Extortion sometimes comes into play. Sometimes, cyberbullies pretend to be someone else to gain your child’s trust and information they can use as ammunition against your child. The bully may share hurtful or explicit pictures or videos of your child online. The good news is, neither you nor your child are powerless when it comes to knowing how to deal with a cyberbully. Set ground rules for your child, and know how to spot the warning signs of cyberbullying.
How to Deal with a Cyberbully
Support Your Child
Remember that however long you’ve known about the cyberbullying, your child has been living with it longer. Stay calm and make sure your child knows you believe them.
Talk with your child about what happened. Ask if you can help your child deal with it directly. This helps build their confidence and self-esteem if they feel like the bullying will come to an end.
Start by making changes at home. You can implement safety nets, such as no social media access, to ensure your child has a safe place.
Don’t Respond to the Cyberbully
As a parent, nobody can blame you for wanting to defend your child when someone is spreading lies about them or sharing their personal information, but—as anyone who knows how to deal with a cyberbully can tell you—it’s important that you don’t respond because it may feed the bully’s ego and escalate the situation.
Save the Evidence
Save pictures, screenshots, and print out messages from the cyberbully. Keep a log of dates and descriptions of comments and posts against your kid.
Later, if you need to involve school officials or law enforcement, this information may be critical. Without evidence, authorities can’t take action against the bully.
Block the Cyberbully
If your child’s phone allows, block the bully’s phone number. All social media platforms allow you to block people. If the bullying occurs via e-mail, mark the messages as spam. Out of sight is out of mind.
Set Up New Accounts
If the bullying continues, set up new social media and email accounts for your child. Get them a new cell phone number. This can be time consuming, but it will help protect your child from continued harassment.
Make it difficult for the cyberbully to find your child. Make sure your kid knows to only share their new contact information with trusted family and friends.
Let Social Media Safety Centers Know
Cyberbullies often violate social media policies. Review the terms and conditions on each site, and let them know about any offending behaviors.
Social media sites have multiple tools to discourage violations, from blocking to outright bans. However, they need to see proof, so save any comments or messages in case they’re later deleted.
Let the School Know
Schools are responsible for the safety of their students and staff. Most have policies that address bullying, including bullying that happens off-site and online.
Even if not, when cyberbullying occurs between classmates, it often happens alongside in-person bullying on school grounds. If so, this can give schools more ability to act in your child’s defense.
Report the Abuses to Website Administrators
If the perpetrator created a false, defamatory web page, contact the site’s owner or host. Ask for them to either stop hosting the site or insist that the poster take the information down. Block that webpage from your internet browsers at home.
Tell the App Owner
When the abuse happens through online apps and games, make sure you let the app owner know what is happening. Depending on their terms and conditions, they may be able to suspend the offender’s account or block it from contacting your child’s own. False accounts are particularly worth mentioning to the app owner.
Tell Your Cell Phone Carrier
If the bullying includes texting, let your phone carrier know. They can block the offending phone number to help protect your child. They may also be able to help you buy a kids phone with better parental control settings.
Let Law Enforcement Know
Not all cyberbullying crosses into criminal behavior. Law enforcement can get involved if the bullying involves criminal behavior.
Common cyberbullying tactics that are illegal include:
- Threats of violence
- Child pornography or sending sexually explicit messages or photos
- Stalking, especially on or around school property
- Hate crimes, whether violent or not
- Identity theft, setting up fake accounts
Seek Support from a Counselor
Cyberbullying can have long-term consequences on people, particularly children. They may seclude themselves, engage in self-harm, or lose interest in school or other activities.
To help your child deal with the mental health effects of bullying, ask whether he or she would like to talk to a counselor. Even if he or she says “no,” trust your gut.
If you find out your child is being bullied online or through their phone, the worst thing you can do is ignore it. Because it can happen anywhere, unlike traditional bullying, damage can be done quickly. Be there for your child however he or she needs it, and do everything you can to help them know how to deal with a cyberbully.