It is estimated that more than one third of teens in the United States have been bullied or harassed online, and just as many say online bullying is a major problem. Cyberbullying can be difficult to detect and manage, but it’s important for teens and adults to become empowered to know and understand the actions they should take as both victims and as bystanders.
As a public health expert, my role at Children’s Wisconsin is to develop online health education programs for schools to use throughout the state. When our e-learning team set out to develop an online course on cyberbullying, we connected with a host of subject matter experts, including school counselors, teachers and medical and mental health experts from Children’s Wisconsin to guide our work. I’m thrilled that our Act Now! Cyberbullying mini course is now available to support high-school aged kids in grades 9-12 in understanding the harmful effects of cyberbullying and how to deal with it.
What exactly is cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying is using technology to harass, threaten or embarrass another person. Online threats and mean, aggressive or rude texts, tweets, posts or messages all count, as does posting personal information, pictures or videos that hurt or embarrass someone else.
Some examples include:
· Spreading rumors about someone online or via texts
· Posting mean or hurtful pictures or videos
· Creating fake social media accounts to hurt, shame or harass others
· Pretending to be someone else online in order to post personal or false information about another person
· Name calling, threatening or encouraging others to self-harm or commit suicide
Online bullying can be particularly damaging and upsetting because it’s often anonymous or hard to trace. Because cyberbullying can be done from a physically distant location and not face-to-face, some teens simply don’t realize the serious harm they are causing when they can’t see the targeted person’s response. Those who have been cyberbullied — as well as those who cyberbully others — are more likely to struggle academically, emotionally, psychologically and behaviorally.
Strategies to prevent cyberbullying
There are steps you can take to address cyberbullying. To start, have conversations with your kids about good digital citizenship early on. Begin talking about these issues before they even delve into the world of texting, social media and online gaming.
Set clear expectations about what they are allowed to do online. Agreeing with your child on appropriate behavior online will help create an open, ongoing conversation. Monitor your child’s social media accounts, apps and browsing history to make sure you are aware of any cyberbullying should it occur. You can monitor what your child is doing by friending them on social media and setting specific privacy settings. The social media world changes frequently, so talk with your child about new ways people are connecting online so you can stay current with the latest technology.
What parents and caregivers should do if cyberbullying happens:
· Tell your child they have your support and can share openly and honestly.
· Talk with your child about what happened and how they are feeling about it.
· Document and report any bullying that has occurred.
If your kids are bystanders or victims, don’t take away their technology devices. This can cut off their support system and sends a message that if they tell a parent about what happened, they will be punished.
What your child should do if cyberbullying occurs:
· Resist the urge to reply.
· Save any evidence of the cyberbullying.
· Block and report the cyberbully.
I encourage educators and parents to enroll your teens in this new mini-course. It offers an engaging and effective way to raise awareness and provides valuable information and action steps to help limit the impact of cyberbullying. It also reinforces positive ways to use social media and how social media sites work to monitor and stop cyberbullying, too.
The Act Now! Cyberbullying mini course, and other valuable e-learning resources, are available for educators to use in schools and also for parents and caregivers to share with their teens at home.
— MELINDA JACOBS, MPH, Program Development Coordinator, Community Health, Children’s Wisconsin
Children’s Wisconsin offers e-learning programs as part of our commitment to improving the health and well-being of children. Our e-learning programs are developed in collaboration with the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction and align with National Health Education Standards.