Parents should be on the lookout for the dangers of cyberbullying as screen time levels surge.
As schools move to online-based curriculums, summer plans cancelled, and fall term up in the air, families have turned to screens as a solution for everything from communication to education to relaxation. But as kids become increasingly connected, there’s a dangerous underbelly to watch out for: cyberbullying.
What is cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying is defined as “any bullying that takes place over a digital device.” This includes using text messages, apps, social media, or video games to send, post or share negative, harmful, false, or mean content about someone else. The most common place it occurs is on the devices and forums on which your kids spend a lot of time, and the Wall Street Journal reported a “substantial rise” in toxic words and phrases in text-based conversations on Discord, a chat platform popular with kids.
The CDC reported in 2019 that 30 percent of high schoolers and 33 percent of middle schoolers had been cyberbullied, with nearly 14 percent of public schools reporting that some form of bullying happened at least once a week. And that was before the onset of shelter-in-place.
Where does cyberbullying occur?
Since digital devices allow kids to be tuned in 24 hours a day, cyberbullying can become more common if left unmonitored. Incidents frequently occur on popular apps like Instagram, TikTok, and Snapchat, as well as newer apps such as YOLO and Houseparty. Apps like YOLO, which lets users anonymously comment on posts, allow for a lot of freedom and opportunity for cyberbullies. The reasons for being bullied reported most often by students include physical appearance, race/ethnicity, gender, disability, religion, sexual orientation.
Parents do their best to keep up with what online platforms their kids are using, but Circle’s Filters can help parents stay on top of managing apps and keep kids safe from accessing inappropriate content.
What roles do kids play in cyberbullying?
It’s important to know when kids are being cyberbullied, but it’s also important to identify when they are being the bully. Sometimes kids may even engage in cyberbullying behavior without knowing it. They may join in, reinforce it by laughing or playing along, or maybe remain outside of it by not engaging or reporting the behavior. Granted, some will come to the defense of the kid being bullied, and hopefully report the behavior to a parent or guardian—unfortunately, this doesn’t happen often.
One way parents can help is to be active and involved with what their kids are doing, online and off, and make sure to review and approve apps kids are using on their smartphones, tablets, or computers. Circle Home Plus can help manage all in-home Internet-connected devices as well, so parents can also manage online gaming.
What are the signs of cyberbullying?
Kids generally don’t want to come forward, often because they feel ashamed or fear they’ll lose their device privileges, so it’s important to keep an eye out for telltale signs. Although they might vary, signs can include:
- being emotionally upset during or after using online devices
- being secretive or protective of their online life
- withdrawing from family members, friends, and activities
- slipping grades and "acting out" in anger at home
- changing moods, behaviors, or eating and sleeping patterns
- wanting to stop using computers or mobile devices
- being nervous or jumpy when getting an instant message, text, or email
- avoiding discussions about computer or mobile phone activities
Overall, the best way to prevent cyberbullying is to be involved, talk openly and honestly with kids, and have tools in your parenting toolkit to help stop cyberbullying and keep your kids safe online. For more information, or to help prepare kids for when they are being bullied or witness it, check out the U.S. Government’s official Stop Bullying website and Stop Cyberbullying Day on June 19, for #StopCyberbullyingDay. Keep up with us on social media for the latest Circle news, tips, and ideas, or to get involved in more #DigitalParenting conversations!