My child is a cyberbully: What should I do?

Dr. Nicole Beurkens, PhD

Dr. Nicole Beurkens, PhD

Child psychologist

worried my child is a cyberbully

Today, almost every child has access to the internet on a daily basis. They can connect with each other more easily than ever before through social media, texting, online forums, and more. While this increased digital connection can certainly bring benefits, it can also bring an increased potential for social problems – including bullying

Cyberbullying has become a widespread problem for kids; in 2019, research showed that about 16% of children in grades 9-12 experienced some form of cyberbullying online. As cyberbullying continues to increase, it’s important that we as parents learn to identify signs that our kids are getting involved. So what if you suspect it’s your child who is a cyberbully? Here’s how you as a parent can identify and prevent cyberbullying in your own home.

What is cyberbullying?

Cyberbullying is a form of bullying which takes place over the internet, including social media, instant messaging, online games, and more. It involves sending, sharing, or posting negative or harmful content about others. Cyberbullying can also include sharing personal or private information with others with malicious intent. Cyberbullying can be directly aimed at a specific person, or cyberbullies may engage in these types of activities at the expense of many. 

While cyberbullying often occurs between people who have connections in the real world, social media and other platforms have allowed cyberbullies to target complete strangers while maintaining anonymity. This has made cyberbullying an even larger problem than ever before. Now anyone can engage in cyberbullying or online trolling with little risk to themselves, while remaining anonymous. 

Cyberbullying can occur in a variety of places, such as:

  • Online forums
  • Online games
  • Social media (Instagram, Snapchat, TikTok, etc.)
  • Instant messaging apps
  • Email

Why do students cyberbully?

There can be a variety of reasons that kids engage in cyberbullying, depending on individual circumstances. Here are a few of the most common reasons why students engage in cyberbullying:

1. Lack of social skills

Many cyberbullies resort to retaliatory activities when they find trouble making lasting connections at school. Students who have a hard time making good friends are more likely to mistreat others online, and may begin cyberbullying those who they feel have mistreated them in real life.

2. They have been bullied

Sometimes, victims of bullying justify their future actions because they have already been bullied or harassed themselves. This can lead to situations where victims of past bullying turn to cyberbullying in order to make up for their own treatment in the past.

3. They believe they will not be caught

The nature of the internet means that cyberbullies can remain completely anonymous to victims by using alternate accounts and many other means of concealing their identities. This leads to cyberbullies feeling as though they could never experience any consequences for their actions, and often encourages them to engage in more severe bullying activities.

4. Lack of supervision

In some families, parents have little time to watch over everything their kids do on the internet or simply think that it isn’t important. In reality, monitoring our kids’ time on the internet is an extremely important part of our jobs as parents – especially those of us with younger kids. Installing an app that allows parents to keep an eye on what their kids are doing online can be an easy way to prevent them from engaging in inappropriate activities on their devices. I’ve found Qustodio to be the best app for this purpose, and use it with my own children as well as recommending it to my patient families.

5. They seek attention or validation

Particularly on social media platforms, kids can often feel as though they need validation or attention from their peers and other strangers on the internet. In order to achieve this, they may resort to spreading rumors or making fun of other kids. Peer pressure can also lead them to post negative content about others.

I think my child is a cyberbully

Signs my child is a cyberbully

If you suspect that your child may be engaging in cyberbullying or just want to check for warning signs, there are several things to look out for.

  • Children who cyberbully may be more resistant to conversations about their electronics use, particularly when it comes to who they communicate with online. 
  • Another common tactic cyberbullies use is multiple accounts on the same platform. They often use alternate accounts to hide their identities or post negative content about others. 
  • Your child may also show signs of electronics overuse, particularly when there is no adult supervision. 
  • Kids who frequently switch tabs or close apps when you approach them are also more likely to be engaging in cyberbullying.
  • You may hear things from other kids or their parents about problematic conversations or content your child has posted, which is also a clue that something needs to be addressed.

My child is a cyberbully. What do I do?

As a parent, your primary goal in this situation is to create positive change in your child, while ensuring that any victims involved receive the help and support they need. This means there are several things to consider:

Model appropriate behavior

Our kids learn what is and isn’t acceptable from us, so it is always crucial to model what respectful and appropriate behavior looks like. No matter what happens, staying calm and collected can go a long way to helping everyone involved reach a peaceful resolution. Even though you may be very distressed about the situation, approach it in a calm manner with a focus on problem-solving.

Make consequences clear

It may be important to sit down with your child and have a clear conversation about the consequences for cyberbullying. Not only did their actions cause harm to others, but cyberbullying can also have strict legal consequences that many students are not aware of. Many teens are shocked to learn that their actions can cause them to wind up in court, or worse. While this should not be used to scare them, it is critical to educate them on the very real consequences of their online choices.

Try to discern their motivation 

If you can understand the reasons your child cyberbullies, you’re one step closer to permanently resolving the issue. Working to attack the problem from the source can help clear up underlying causes and create lasting behavioral change.

Create a plan to move forward

Work with your child to make a plan for them in the future that includes making up for their actions and preventing future incidents from occurring. This might mean setting up time to talk with their peers, removing access to certain apps or accounts, or setting up a monitoring system on their devices such as Qustodio.

With so much technology at their fingertips every day, it can be easy for our kids to fall into negative habits. As parents, it’s our job to educate ourselves on these pitfalls and work to help our kids avoid them as they grow up. Cyberbullying can seem difficult to identify and prevent, as so much of it can happen when we are not around to watch out for our kids. However, by learning to watch for specific warning signs, we can work to stop our children from cyberbullying and help them behave appropriately and respectfully in our technology-driven world.

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