With many children growing up proficient with a variety of technologies, and even unlimited access to technology, parents have to think about how to train their children when interacting with others via that technology, and how to deal with the information and interactions that come their way.
Between ignorance, hormones, and even normal developmental stages, there is a lot of potential for hurt, misunderstandings, and even outright attacks.
How can a parent know when their child is being bullied, especially when the culprit may even be faceless?
Just like any other type of bullying, a child can potentially exhibit reactions to stress and hurt feelings in several different areas of their life. These categories may include physical, social, emotional, and even academic changes. One thing that these all would have in common is that the changes will most likely be very sudden, and seemingly unexplained by anything you have knowledge about that they are going through in life. You may describe your child as suddenly having:
- Headaches, stomach aches, and random pains
- Mood swings
- Extreme irritability especially when certain subjects come up
- Extreme irritability after receiving texts or being on the computer
- Secretiveness, social withdrawal, seclusion, disinterest in participating in activities
Unfortunately, bullying also begets bullying; one manifestation of an issue may be bullying of his or her own. In fact, sometimes a child will neglect to tell a parent about online conversations because he will not want the parent to know what he said in reply to comments online, or what he said about someone else, possibly an uninvolved / innocent party, to distract the attention away from himself. Potentially, the child could even just simply want to hide the information from the parent because they are embarrassed or upset, as well, so you don’t need to assume that your child is also bullying – but you may not want to assume he or she is completely outside of the group of wrong-doers, either.
Depending on your child’s developmental stage, and personal maturity, she may truly believe that what the bully has said about her is actually true. Sometimes this can manifest in self-harm, such as cutting. Children may be dared, coerced into playing a “game” that involves self-harm, or initiate this on their own. They may wear long sleeves in 90 degree weather to cover their arms. (Another reason might be because of bullying focused on their bodily appearance in general.)
Changes in appetite, sleep patterns, or a sudden onset of bad dreams may also be symptoms of a deeper problem.
Avoiding social situations and specific people with whom they used to enjoy hanging out with is a major red flag. While it is true that friends come and go, adamantly refusing to socialize suddenly could mean that there’s been a “situation.”
Since the social world also includes social media, you may also observe changes in your child’s online habits. If your child comes to you and asks how to shut down an account online, this may be a brave attempt to ask you for intervention. If they shut down an account on their own, block a phone number from being able to call them, block an email address, block other accounts on social media, or create a new account, these are red flags. If suddenly your child has many, many new phone numbers showing up on his phone, a lot of new adds on social media, or an extreme amount of new messages, they may be receiving a lot of feedback from some “event” that happened. Also, if it appears that a person other than your child has opened an account with their name or pictures, they could be being bullied.
General noticeable anxiety, fearfulness, or apprehension may be observed – although every individual child will handle bullying differently. Anger, threats, and frustration that seem to be about something deeper than normal daily irritations can be a sign. If you find your child is suddenly making comments about herself that are derogatory, or otherwise show very low self-esteem, or perhaps are words and phrases that don’t sound like her own – these can be signs that she has internalized comments that are coming from somewhere – and someone – else.
A drop in grades, or a sudden lack of interest in a formerly engaged and passionate student is a red flag, as well. Skipping school, or particular classes, may be a sign, as well as not wanting to participate in projects that require groups and outside of the classroom communications.
Cyber bullying may not be stand-alone; there may be physical bullying or relational aggression, as some call it, along with the cyber bullying. Online bullying may not always be a peer; the disadvantage of the Internet is you don’t really know who’s behind any various account.
Having conversations with your child about what they should do if they are bullied online, what bullying consists of, and what activities are permissible and not permissible online may open up the channel for your child to confide in you about anything hurtful that is happening on social media. While many children balk at adding their parents as a friend, this is a very good idea; if not, you should have access to their account itself so that you can monitor it.
If you suspect bullying, it is better to confront your child about the situation than to let it go for any length of time. Children tend to think that social media interactions, especially negative ones, have very real effects on their lives; and to some degree, they are right. People may be bullying them in real life, or think differently of them because of what they have seen about them online. If you think about it, if you read something right now about yourself on Facebook that was hurtful or mean in an extreme way, you would be upset, even as an adult – to a child, this may literally seem like his or her life is over. As a parent, you can equip your child to deal with those very real emotions and consequences that come from cyber bullying, and help him or her get through the situation more smoothly.