How to Help Teens Cope with Cyberbullying

Understand cyberbullying to help your teen work through it.

Posted Nov 21, 2017

Pixaby/Pexels
Source: Pixaby/Pexels

A 15-year-old girl is asked to share a topless photo on Snap. Her gut instinct tells her that she shouldn’t send the picture. Her two close friends tell her to ignore the request. But the request keeps coming, and she likes the boy making the request. Added to that, another group of girls encourages her to send it. They make it sound like this is the new normal for teen dating. She loses sleep over it for several nights. She talks about it obsessively with her friends, to the point where they avoid her at lunch to avoid the conversation. 

In the end, she doesn’t send the picture. She sends a heartfelt message about how much she likes him but that she doesn’t want to send that kind of picture. The boy takes a screenshot of the message and uses it to torment her for weeks to come on Snapchat, Instagram, and group text. The girls who encouraged her to send the photo get in on the tormenting. The stress of the situation causes migraines, stomachaches, and missed days of school. Not to mention, she’s completely socially isolated. 

With the near constant use of technology among teens and even younger children, many parents worry about cyberbullying. Headlines about cyberbullying are overwhelming at best and leave parents feeling helpless. Can cyberbullying be prevented in this online world?

According to the latest statistics compiled by StopBullying.gov, 9 percent of students in grades 6 to 12 experienced cyberbullying, and 15 percent of high school students experienced cyberbullying. 55.2 percent of LGBTQ students experienced cyberbullying.

Understanding cyberbullying 

Cyberbullying is bullying that takes place over electronic devices, such as phones, tablets, or computers. It can occur via SMS (text messaging apps), email, social media, instant message, chat forums, or even gaming systems. Cyberbullying can include the following:

  • Sending, sharing, or posting harmful, negative, or false information or content about someone
  • Sharing photos or screenshots that can be damaging or used to humiliate or embarrass someone
  • Sharing personal information to humiliate someone or damage someone’s reputation

Due to the public nature of social media and the ability to share digital information swiftly across multiple channels, cyberbullying can reach far and wide. Damaging photos and content can easily be shared from school-to-school and across state lines before a teen seeks help. Cyberbullying is particularly difficult to manage because most things posted online are permanent (or difficult to remove) and it’s hard to recognize. Teachers and parents can’t see cyberbullying as it occurs the way they can other forms of bullying.

The scope of cyberbullying

Cyberbullying can happen to any child or teen using digital devices to communicate at any time. Recent data compiled by Websitebuilderexpert.com showed the “friendliest” to “meanest” states when it comes to online bullying. Despite legislation that classifies cyberbullying as a crime, Nevada ranked as the state with the highest rates of cyberbullying. 

New Hampshire, on the other hand, ranked as the friendliest state with the lowest percentage of hostile comments and the fifth lowest percentage of people reporting online harassment. 

Anyone using digital devices to communicate, share content, or connect with others can experience cyberbullying. The best thing parents can do for teens immersed in a digital world is engage in frequent conversations and talk openly and honestly about expectations and what to do if cyberbullying does occur.

How to deal with cyberbullying

Research shows that cyberbullying on social media is linked to depression in teens. It’s essential that parents remain engaged with their teens and talk about ways to seek help.

  • Don’t judge or fix: Teens need parents to listen without judgment. They also don’t want their parents to start calling other parents or the school right away. The best first step is to listen and ask follow up questions to understand the scope of the cyberbullying. Unconditional support is key. If you listen, empathize, and work together, your teen will continue to seek your help.
  • Document everything: Take screenshots of any cyberbullying found on devices and send them to your phone. Document your conversations as well. Rehashing cyberbullying with school personnel and other authorities can be anxiety producing. Stories might lack details or seem different when teens are under pressure. Documenting your conversations will help you help your teen communicate what happened.
  • Identify a safe person at school: Teens need a touchstone at school – someone they can go to when overwhelmed by the real-life fallout of cyberbullying or to seek help in the moment.
  • Respond thoughtfully: Resist the urge to blast out your concerns on your own social media channels. This won’t help your teen and might make it worse.
  • Work together to formulate a plan: Your teen needs help, but your teen also needs the autonomy to use problem-solving skills that work for her him. Brainstorm possible solutions, including the best point person at the school (this might a counselor or specific member of the administration), and work together.
  • Use the tools within the apps: Chances are your teen knows how to block users and protect passwords, but it can’t hurt to review privacy settings, scroll through friend lists to identify potential fake accounts and report fake accounts, harassing comments, or inappropriate photos. 
  • Talk about upstanders: Discuss the importance of reporting bullying or inappropriate content even if it doesn’t directly impact your teen, leaving positive comments when others are leaving negative ones, and reaching out to kids being victimized online. When teens are empowered to help other teens, they learn that they have the power to combat online negativity by sprinkling kindness and support.

Cyberbullying can leave lasting effects, including depression and anxiety. If you suspect that your teen is the victim of cyberbullying, talk to your teen and make a plan to get help. 

References

US Department of Health and Human Services,"Facts About Bullying", retrieved from Stopbullying.gov.

Website Builder Expert, "Which US State is the Biggest Cyberbully?", November 20, 2017.

Pappas, Stephanie, "Cyberbullying on Social Media Linked to Teen Depression," Live Science, June 22, 2015.