Cyberbullying, which involves the use of cell phone text messages, social media posts and instant messages to send hurtful-and sometimes anonymous-messages can often more complex than the type of bullying than today’s adults experienced as children. According to a survey conducted by i-SAFE America, 58 percent of children admitted to having experienced some form of cyberbullying. “Serious cyberbullying can put victims at greater risk for anxiety and depression,” said Dr. Sara Rivero-Conil, a psychologist at Miami’s Children’s Hospital’s Psychiatry Department. Dr. Rivero-Conil has years of experience treating children and teens with social and emotional problems. “What makes cyberbullying a big concern,” she stresses, “is that the torment isn’t limited to school anymore. It can essentially happen 24 hours a day, which can make those who are being severely cyberbullied feel like there is no escape.” How Can You Tell if Your Child is Being Bullied? Dr. Rivero-Conil recommends you “Keep an open communication with your child and look for changes in academic functioning, behaviors, sleep, or appetite. If your child arrives from school looking disheveled or missing items that they had taken to school, be sure to check in with him/her. It’s also important to remind your child that the bullying is not his or her fault.” In 2005, a 15-year-old boy from Cape Coral, Florida took his own life after being severely bullied over the Internet by classmates.
Because of the boy’s story, Florida became the second state to adopt anti-bullying laws that would penalize schools that don’t comply with anti-bullying policies. But even with laws to protect kids from cyberbullies, many still end up as victims. “Cyberbullying isn’t just happening among classmates,” explained Dr. Rivero-Conil. “With today’s ever-changing technology, many kids are being taunted and even threatened by people they’ve never even met. So while the schools can get involved in certain cases, there’s no way of knowing what students are doing online once they get home.” Protecting Your Kids From Cyberbullies As a parent, there are several ways you can help your child avoid becoming a victim of cyberbullying: -Talk to your children about the dangers of the Internet. -Encourage them to be respectful to others, both in person and online. -Keep home computers in a public place and limit the time children spend online engaging in non-school-related activities.
Most importantly, added Dr. Rivero-Conil, “If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. Encourage your children not to open messages from bullies, and they definitely should not hesitate to block someone’s online profile if they are feeling harassed.” When Your Child is the Bully When it comes to cyberbullying, most parents never imagine their child being the bully. But iSafe America found that 54 percent of recently surveyed kids admitted to being mean to someone over the Internet. “Finding out your child is harassing a friend or classmate can be very upsetting for a parent,” said Dr. Rivero-Conil. “That’s why it’s important to teach your children appropriate Internet practices, as well as the negative impact their words can have on others. “Bullying in general is often a way of acting out because of underlying problems,” noted Dr. Rivero-Conil. “If you feel your child may be dealing with feelings of anger, hurt or frustration, having them talk to a professional counselor can often help them learn to cope with these feelings in a healthy manner.