How to Protect Your Teens From Cyberbullies

By Leslie Davis

In this digital age, bullying is no longer relegated to the schoolyard. Bullies can now attack in the place kids should feel the safest -- their homes.

Instead of physically harming or verbally attacking their victims, cyberbullies use the Internet, cell phones and other technology to hurt, threaten and embarrass others. Because it is done online, the effect of cyberbullying is more far-reaching and enduring than bullying that occurs at school.

Cyberbullies can victimize their targets in a variety of ways, including the following:

  • Creating websites that make fun of or criticize another person
  • Sending mean or threatening emails, instant messages or text messages
  • Pretending to be someone else to trick their victim into revealing personal information
  • Lying about their victim online
  • Breaking into their victim's email or instant messages
  • Posting unflattering or offensive pictures online, without permission
  • Using websites to rate their peers

In most instances, the victims of cyberbullying know their attackers. They are often classmates, friends or online acquaintances. One study showed that only 23 percent of victims were bullied by someone they didn't know.

With the availability of cell phones and computers, cyberbullying is becoming more common. A 2007 study by the National Crime Prevention Council (NCPC) found that 43 percent of teens experienced some form of cyberbullying in the previous year. Among the population most likely to be victims (teens ages 15 to 16), more than 50 percent were the victims of at least one incident in the previous year.

Effects of Cyberbullying

Kids who experience cyberbullying are unlikely to tell their parents about it. According to the NCPC, only 11 percent of teens talked to their parents about incidents of cyberbullying.

But the effects of cyberbullying can be even more emotionally destructive than bullying experienced in school. Cyberbullies may be more aggressive because they are able to say things online that they wouldn't say in person, and their threats and actions can be shared with an entire school at the click of a button. Kids who are cyberbullied may be constantly victimized in what should be the safety of their own homes.

The effects of cyberbullying are similar to those experienced by kids who are the victims of bullying:

  • Low self-esteem
  • A drop in grades
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • A disinterest in activities they used to enjoy
  • Insecurity
  • Withdrawal from friends
  • Avoidance of school or group outings
  • Changes in mood, behavior, sleep and appetite

Teens who are cyberbullied may also exhibit nervousness after interfacing with technology and social isolation.

Protecting Your Teens

For the victims of cyberbullying, the threats and attacks may seem inescapable and they may feel helpless to do anything about it. While technology may make it easier for bullies to reach their targets, there are some things you can do as a parent to lessen the chances that your teens will be victimized:

  • Teach your teens about cyberbullying so that they know how to spot it if it happens to them. Also explain to them what behaviors are inappropriate online so that they don't become bullies themselves.
  • Encourage them to never give out their personal information or passwords online.
  • Keep an eye on what your teens are doing online and what sites they frequent.
  • Create rules about Internet use and enforce those rules with consequences. According to the NCPC, about 80 percent of teens said they either don't have parental rules about the Internet or can find ways around them. Make sure you're creating rules that can be enforced.
  • Instruct your teens to not respond to cyberbullies, no matter how angry they are, and to instead block threatening emails or instant messages.
  • Let them know that they should tell you if they ever get cyberbullied, and that you will help them figure out how to handle the situation.
  • Tell them to keep a record of any cyberbullying they experience, including any photographs that were sent.
  • Inform them that bullying incidents can be reported to Internet service providers and website moderators. If the cyberbullying involves threats of violence, extortion, harassment, stalking, obscene text messages or child pornography, the incidents can also be reported to the police.

What to Do if Your Teen Is a Cyberbully

Harder than finding out your teen is being bullied is finding out that your teen is actually the one doing the bullying. If it comes to your attention that your teen is engaging in cyberbullying, it is a good idea to tackle the issue immediately before it becomes a regular behavior.

Let your teen know that bullying of any sort is unacceptable, and what the effects are on the victims of bullying. Explain to them what types of jokes and emails are acceptable, and those that others may find offensive or mean.

It may be necessary to seek professional help for your teen if they are bullying. A therapist will be able to help your teen understand their behavior and develop empathy for others. If your teen is unable to stop their bullying behaviors or is not responding to therapy, it may be necessary to enroll your teen in a residential treatment center or wilderness camp for troubled teens that can help them address their behavior and learn more productive ways to interact with their peers.

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