What Parents And Caregivers Need to Know about Cyberbullying

While the rates of both in-person bullying and cyberbullying decreased during the pandemic, Canada is still ranked among Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) nations as one of the countries with the highest rate of bullying. Children who are victims of bullying can experience a wide range of negative effects including lower performance in school and decreased mental health. Bullying was listed among Raising Canada’s 2022 Top 10 Threats to Childhood in Canada report. While bullying can affect any child, certain groups experience higher rates of bullying including 2SLGBTQIA+, immigrants, refugees, and Indigenous youth and children from socially and economically disadvantaged backgrounds.

Cyberbullying presents a particularly difficult problem because it can occur anywhere from anyone. Unlike in-person bullying, children and youth are unable to escape from cyberbullying when the school day ends. Cyberbullying also typically takes place on a larger scale with a larger audience than in-person bullying.

Cyberbullying can include more than name-calling and offensive messages.

While verbal and emotional abuse are the most common types of cyberbullying, the behaviour includes anything that is an attack on a child’s self-image, a youth’s self-esteem, or negatively impacts their sense of self. Cyberbullying can also include things that don’t come up in “traditional” bullying like imitating someone online, intentionally excluding someone from online conversations, and harassing others in games.

Talking to your kids about cyberbullying before it becomes a problem can reduce the impact.

Around 1 in 3 youth in Canada will experience some form of bullying. Opening up a line of communication before bullying begins can help lessen the negative effects of cyberbullying. Encourage your children to tell you about what goes on when they’re online just like they tell you about the rest of their day. Make it clear that your children can and should come to you if something happens online that makes them feel uncomfortable or in danger. 

Children and youth who are cyberbullied may be reluctant to talk to adults about the problem.

Not all kids will feel comfortable talking about being bullied with adults, even more so for some 2SLGBTQIA+ kids and youth who are not yet ready to discuss their sexuality. It is important for kids to know that they shouldn’t delay talking to you, and to not be afraid or feel ashamed about what has happened. When kids do bring up cyberbullying, listen to the situation. Listen calmly, and try to find a balance between overreacting and dismissing the problem. 

Some signs of cyberbullying are more obvious than others.

It can be hard to recognize the signs of cyberbullying because they can be vague or resemble other problems. Both avoiding social media and constantly checking social media can be signs that a kid is being cyberbullied. Another sign is being upset after checking devices. Other signs that are less obvious include anxiety, distress, trouble sleeping, and withdrawal. 

Youth are less likely to engage in cyberbullying if there are open, honest conversations in their households about it and the damage it can cause their peers.

While you can hope that your children will never be the ones doing the bullying, kids do make mistakes. Talking about cyberbullying and setting expectations for online behaviour can reduce the likelihood that your children will engage in cyberbullying. The impact of cyberbullying can be difficult for kids to understand because they can’t see the damage on the other side of the screen.

Cyberbullying someone else can have serious consequences. 

Cyberbullying can have a devastating effect on victims, but that’s not the only consequence of bullying. Depending on the situation, cyberbullying can also be against the law. Consequences can range from losing a device, paying the victim, or even jail time. Sometimes kids and youth can view cyberbullying as “just a joke,” so it’s important for them to know the behaviour is not taken lightly.

Cyberbullying can have negative effects on everyone involved. By talking about it, we can change the culture that exists about cyberbullying. For more information on how to help prevent and reduce cyberbullying, see the resources available from TELUS Wise.