Important Signs: Is your child being cyberbullied? - WNEM TV 5

Important Signs: Is your child being cyberbullied?

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(HealthDay News) -- More than half of the parents of teen-agers say they're worried about cyberbullying, a recent survey finds.

Cyberbullying, which usually means one teen or group of teens taunting or spreading rumors about a peer online, has risen along with accessibility of the internet and the popularity of online social media such as Facebook.

In a survey of more than 1,000 parents of teenagers aged 13 to 17 by the American Osteopathic Association found that 85 percent of those polled reported that their children had social media accounts. About 52 of parents said cyberbullying was a concern.

One expert said these concerns are valid.

"While bullying through physical intimidation has long been a problem among teenagers, cyberbullying by using computers and smart phones to send rumors or post cruel messages has become more prevalent in recent years," explains Dr. Jennifer Caudle, an osteopathic family physician in Little Rock, Ark. and bullying expert, in a news release. "Even though there might not be physical injuries, cyberbullying leaves deep emotional scars on the victim."

The survey also revealed that one in six parents knew their child had been the victim of a cyberbully. Some of the kids teased or harassed online were as young as 9 years old. In most cases, the cyberbullying was not a one time occurrence, but rather happened repeatedly.

Possible warning signs of cyberbullying include:

  • Acting distressed after being on the Internet.
  • Withdrawing from social activities or friendships.
  • Avoiding social gatherings or not wanting to go to school.
  • Seeing grades fall.
  • Having behavior problems at home or school.
  • Showing changes in mood, appetite or sleep patterns.

Cyberbullying can lead to anxiety, depression, loss of interest in socializing, aggression toward others the victim can bully, poor academic performance, and suicidal thoughts, Caudle said.

Some victims of cyberbullying have even killed themselves, according to the Cyberbullying Research Center, an organization run by professors from Florida Atlantic University and the University of Wisconsin who have studied the issue since 2002.

The vast majority of parents -- 91 percent -- believe they, not teachers, are ultimately responsible for preventing these long term effects. More than 75 percent of parents said they have discussed cyberbullying with their children, while 86 percent said they joined their child's online social network so they can monitor their teens' interactions. Two out of three parents also said they monitor the security settings on their children's social media accounts.

The survey also found that one in seven parents have barred their children from using online social media, but keeping teens off these networking sites may prove more difficult. Although just about all teens, or 97 percent, access their accounts from a home computer, many also log on using smart phone or mobile devices.

Girls are the worst offenders, the survey showed. About two-thirds of cyberbullying occurred among girls, making it twice as common among girls than boys. This fact may not be lost on parents. More than 75 percent reported they felt this type of aggressive behavior was a greater concern for girls.

What Parents Can Do:

Communicate with your children. Set up a daily time to check in with your son or daughter, and listen to any concerns about online activities that they are involved in. Talk specifically about cyberbullying and encourage your children to tell you immediately if they see or experience cyberbullying. 

Be aware of where your children go online. Familiarize yourself with the technology they are using.

Develop and enforce rules. Work together and come to a clear understanding about when, where, and for what purpose phones and computers can be used. Develop clear rules about what is and what is not appropriate online. Decide on fair consequences and follow through consistently.

How You Can Help:

If you know or suspect your children are being cyberbullied, take quick action.

Talk with your children. Do not just ignore the bullying problem or hope it will go away. Tell your child that you are concerned and that you'd like to help.

Tell your child not to respond to cyberbullying. Responding can sometimes make the situation worse.

Empathize with your child. Tell him or her that cyberbullying is wrong, that it is not their fault, and that you are glad he or she had the courage to tell you about it. Do not assume that your child did something to provoke the bullying. For instance, do not ask things like, "What did you do to aggravate the other child?"

Work together to find solutions. Ask your children what he or she thinks can be done to help, and reassure him or her that the situation can be handled and still keep them safe.

Document ongoing cyberbullying. Work with your children to record bullying incidents. Write down what happened, where, who was involved, and when it occurred. Find out how your child reacted and how the students bullying, bystanders, and adults responded.

Block the person who is cyberbullying your children. Many websites and phone companies let you block people. Cyberbullying may violate the "Terms and Conditions" of these services. Consider contacting them to file a complaint.

Contact law enforcement. Police can respond if the aggressive behavior is criminal. The following may constitute a crime:

  • Threats of violence
  • Child pornography and sexting
  • Taking a photo image of someone in a place where he or she would expect privacy
  • Harassment, stalking, or hate crimes
  • Obscene or harassing phone calls or text messages
  • Sexual exploitation
  • Extortion

Be Persistent. Talk regularly with your child to see whether the cyberbullying has stopped. If the bullying persists or escalates, you may need to contact the appropriate people again or talk with an attorney. Don't give up.

What Schools Can Do:

Investigate reports of cyberbullying immediately. If cyberbullying occurs on-campus or through the school district's internet system, you are obligated to take action. If the cyberbullying occurs off-campus, you can still help. Remember even cyberbullying that occurs off-campus can affect how students behave and relate to each other at school.

  • Closely monitor the behavior of the students involved at school for all forms of bullying.
  • Investigate to see if those who are cyberbullied need support from a school counselor or school-based health professional.
  • Notify parents of students involved in cyberbullying.
  • Talk with all students about the negative effects of cyberbullying.

Contact law enforcement. Notify the police if the aggressive behavior is criminal. The following may constitute a crime:

  • Threats of violence
  • Child pornography and sexting
  • Taking a photo image of someone in a place where he or she would expect privacy
  • Harassment, stalking, or hate crimes
  • Obscene or harassing phone calls or text messages
  • Sexual exploitation
  • Extortion

(Information coursety http://www.stopbullying.gov/)

More information:

The National Crime Prevention Council provides more information on cyberbullying

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