October is National Bullying Prevention Month. Learn how to Help Children Cope with Cyberbullying.

Name-calling and rumor-spreading have long been unpleasant and challenging aspects of adolescent life and have accelerated online in a form called cyberbullying. Standing up to an often faceless bully is now a new skill for teens and their families.

So what exactly is cyberbullying?
As stated by stopbullying.gov, a federal government website managed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, cyberbullying takes place by means of a digital device, such as a cell phone, computer or tablet, and it happens through SMS, text, apps or online in social media, forums or gaming — wherever people can view, participate in or share content.

How big is the cyberbullying issue?
According to the i-SAFE foundation, a leading online resource for internet safety education (isafe.org):

  • More than half of adolescents and teens have been bullied online and about the same number have engaged in cyberbullying.
  • More than 1 in 3 young people have experienced cyberthreats online.
  • Over 25% of adolescents and teens have been bullied repeatedly via their cell phones or the internet.

Well over half of young people do not tell their parents when cyberbullying occurs. “If you suspect that your child is being bullied, it’s important to help your child understand both the need to enlist the help of responsible adults, and that the way he/she responds to the bully makes a difference,” says Michael A. Bogrov, MD, Vice Chair, Inova Behavioral Health Services and a psychiatrist board certified in general, child, and adolescent psychiatry.

Online harassment does not necessarily begin and end with one specific behavior. Damage from cyberbullying can be serious. Parents, educators, counselors, and teens must take steps to guard against harmful consequences.

How can parents help adolescents handle a cyberbullying encounter?

  • Encourage your child to give the bully as little response as possible. Bullies feed off attention and their perceived power. Help your child focus on the friends who support him/her and the positive experiences in his/her life. The bully’s power will be diffused, and your child will less likely be a target.
  • Make sure your child knows that speaking with an adult and enlisting their support is the right thing to do. They will not be punished for telling and they are not at fault.
  • Make it clear that revenge cyberbullying is unacceptable. In addition, replying in kind may make matters worse or even get the victim into trouble if it escalates and appears those actions are part of the ongoing dialogue.
  • Encourage your child to save cyberbullying messages, or take a screenshot, as proof that the offense occurred. The evidence may be important if parents need to speak with the bully’s parents, a school administrator, and/or the police.
  • Block the cyberbully and report the offending messenger to the appropriate social media platform.  
  • Teens need to know the dangers of sharing anything via text, email or instant messaging that they don’t want to go public. The bully your child is communicating with may not be someone they know.  

If your child suddenly exhibits unusual behavior, such as depression, difficulty sleeping, declining grades, or self-destructive behaviors, there’s no way to definitively know if the problem is cyberbullying. It could be any number of other emotional triggers. But if you sense negative changes, one thing can start the healing process: Communicate! Create an open, caring, supportive environment where your child feels safe to share information. The facts will likely come out. 

Learn more about Inova Behavioral Health Services, and find a list of locations here. If in need of child and adolescent behavioral health outpatient services, call 703.218.8500. For inpatient adolescent behavioral health inpatient services, or inpatient and outpatient adult mental health and substance use services, call 703.289.7560.

The Inova Kellar Center provides a full continuum of outpatient services and programs, including individual, family and group therapy, medication management, psychiatric evaluations, psychological testing, intensive outpatient programs, intensive home base services, and partial hospitalization programs.

If you know of someone in need of assistance with cyberbullying, there are organizations available to help. For adolescents, contact Teens Against Bullying, and for adults, Pacer’s National Bullying Prevention Center.

Additional Resources
2018 Pew National Research Center Study
Cyberbullying 101

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