As parents, we all want to defend and protect our children when they are bullied, but what if our children are the bullies themselves?
A few months back, I had a meeting with the parents of a cyberbully. I witnessed the anxiety of his parents. At first, there was complete denial. Then justifications to defend his bullying attitude. And at the end, they succumbed to feelings of guilt for not being good parents.
As parents, we expect our kids to be an improved and updated version of ourselves. It’s not easy to accept that your “good boy” can actually be a cyberbully hurting others.
It’s imperative to understand that cyberbullying is increasing. It also indicates that an increasing number of children are becoming cyberbullies.
Realistically speaking, we as parents might not always be the one counseling and supporting our innocent child who is being bullied. We might actually be living with a child who is bullying other children. The scenario changes altogether. But what doesn’t change is the fact that cyberbullying hurts and has to stop.
According to UNESCO, approximately 1/3 of children around the globe experience bullying, whereas up to 20% are exposed to cyberbullying across the United States.
In a survey, 34% of youngsters confessed that they have purposely upset others, while 31% admitted saying nasty things to others. 69% of teens self-confessed that they had done something abusive to others online.
It is alarming to see that teens and even younger children are increasingly indulging in cyberbullying. A logical reason behind this upsurge is the nature of interaction involved in cyberbullying.
In cyberbullying, you can remain anonymous and do not have to directly confront the person you are bullying.
What is cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying involves using digital technology to send texts, pictures, or videos to hurt others. It also includes spreading fake news or rumors about someone. Posting disturbing photographs or videos of someone on social media can also be another form of cyberbullying.
The underlying motive is to hurt, anger, or distress someone by sharing hateful material about them. If it is intentional and repeated, then it falls under cyberbullying.
Warning signs that your kid might be a cyberbully
If you notice the following warning signs, then your child might be a cyberbully:
- He has a history of bullying others or has been a victim of bullying himself.
- He has friends who bully others.
- He becomes increasingly violent.
- She spends excessive time with digital devices.
- She has multiple social media accounts.
- She is overly secretive about her online activities.
- He tries to hide his screen when approached.
- He becomes upset if his internet access or online time is restricted.
- He becomes withdrawn from family life.
- She laughs aloud while using his digital device but does not explain why he is laughing.
- She uses digital devices at night.
- She does not like to discuss her online life.
- He becomes overly focused on his IT related skills.
These are warning signs, but they do not necessarily mean that your child is a cyberbully. Try to gather information from other sources and follow his online activities to double check.
Why a child becomes a cyberbully
There can be various causes for a child becoming cyberbully. The following are few common reasons.
- Abusive and overly strict parents can be a reason that their child starts bullying others.
- Negative role models in the form of parents, teachers, elder siblings and other significant adults in the social circle are another important factor. Child learns violent and hurtful behavior from them and follows it in his interactions.
- Lack of attention from parents can be an underlying reason for cyberbullying. Children lacking parental involvement turn to disruptive behavior online to attract attention.
- Children who are victims of bullying can also indulge in cyberbullying. When they cannot take revenge on their offenders, they simply bully weaker targets to take out their anger.
- Some children just want to be authoritative and influential. Hurting or threatening others makes them feel powerful.
- There can be psychological problems behind cyberbullying, e.g., people with antisocial personality disorder tend to inflict pain on others and enjoy hurting others.
Strategies to help your child who is a cyberbully
1. Be empathetic
Heartbreak, depression, and anger are the most common responses of parents when they learn of negative behavior of their children. But it’s empathy that’s going to help them understand why their child is behaving in a certain way.
I always advise parents to be understanding, not judgmental. If you want to help your teen, try to win his trust. If you want him to refrain from negative activities, put yourself in his shoes. Discover his challenges and try to help him overcome those.
2. Discipline is not bad
Discipline in itself is not negative. It’s the way we approach it that can make it objectionable. Even if we want to see our children grow up into responsible adults, they need discipline.
Model self-discipline to them. Explain good and bad options to them. Help them in understanding the balance between rights and duties and teach them to practice self-discipline.
3. Manners and values
From a very early age, introduce the concepts of choice, accountability, responsibility, and mindfulness into their life. Let them differentiate between arrogance and assertiveness, empathy and sympathy, and straightforwardness and indecency.
Help them learn to respect the rights of others and protect their own rights. It will help them in facing bullies. And it will protect them from becoming a bully themselves.
4. Learn to parent the tech generation
Parenting is not a simple task. With the ever changing cyberworld and its challenges, we constantly need to upgrade our parenting styles.
Spend time with your children. Be a part of their cherished activities. Learn and develop with your kids. They can be your best teachers in parenting. Spend time with them and be a part of their virtual social world.
Getting acquainted with their digital gadgets will help you protect them from wrong behaviors.
5. Limit excessive use of digital devices
Social media and digital devices are a part of day to day life now. It is impossible to prohibit use of internet or digital gadgets. You need to regulate the use of social media and online interactions. And you need to create a balance between virtual interactions and offline social life.
You can have a cell phone box in your living room. Let every family member put their cell in the box for at least 2 hours and spend time with each other.
To cut night hours on electronic devices, consider not allowing computers in bedrooms. Also share research on the adverse effects of overusing technological devices with your kids.
Making your younger children monitors can be very helpful at times. In a family meeting, assign them the duty to report if any member is found using electronic device other than at allowed times. And also suggest a penalty for such behavior. It will help in preventing the excessive use of technological devices.
6. Sit and talk to your child
Different strategies work differently for children with different personality types. But sitting and having a heart to heart talk is one that works for all.
Just remember to leave your judgmental self out. Assure your teen that you are there to help him solve his problems. Let him talk his heart out. Listen to his fears, feelings, intentions, and rationalization.
Do not impose your interpretations on him. Rather, help him reflect upon his own thoughts. Encourage him in probing the real reasons for his indulging in cyberbullying. Gradually, he will be able to confront his real demons and fears.
Having parental support in the most difficult times will improve his self-confidence. Having his parents by his side, extending unconditional support, will give him a sense of affiliation. And he will be able to get his self-control back.
7. Mental health support
If your child is facing any psychological problem, make sure that he gets the required professional support to regain his mental health.
8. Encourage physical activity
Some times children fail to channel their energy positively. Consequently, they get involved in the wrong activities.
Getting them busy with healthy physical activities and sports can reduce the chances of falling for negative activities like cyberbullying.
Remember we all can learn wrong things in life. Stand by your child and support him to grow out of it by unlearning and relearning.