Cyberbullying boy with cellphoneIt’s National Youth Violence Prevention Week, which means now is a great time to talk with your children about bullying.

While kids have long been victims of bullying, the ways in which stronger kids (whether they’re physically or socially more powerful) repeatedly prey on “weaker” children have quickly evolved in recent years, right along with technology.

Today, nearly 43 percent of children say they have been victims of cyberbullying. Cyberbullies use email, social media, texting, chat apps, and blogs to bully others. They spread rumors, as well as publicly insult and embarrass their victims, sometimes doing so anonymously to more easily avoid repercussions. And once these messages are circulating online and via smartphone, they can be very difficult to delete or to ignore.

Opening the lines of communication

In surveys, only 1 in 10 kids who say they’ve been the victim of cyberbullying report telling their parents about the incident. “At CHOP, we’ve conducted surveys of school-age children about bullying, and most say they don’t like to talk about cyberbullying with their parents or teachers, often because they’re worried they’ll lose their devices or computer time,” says Stephen S. Leff, PhD, psychologist and co-director of the Violence Prevention Initiative at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.

“Keeping quiet about cyberbullying can make many of these kids feel isolated,” adds Dr. Leff.  Unfortunately, plenty of studies have linked feelings of isolation and being bullied to depression, anxiety and withdrawal from school and other activities.

Helping kids feel safe, secure and supported at home is the first step in ensuring they feel safe and supported in their virtual worlds. To encourage your kids to come to you when they’re having issues with cyberbullying, Dr. Leff says it’s important to:

  • Keep the lines of communication open at all times. Don’t just wait until something happen to speak with your kids about bullying. Establishing good communication with your children when things are good will help them feel comfortable turning to you during more complicated situations.
  • Let kids know they can talk with you without the fear of repercussions. Taking away a device or limiting who your children interact with online doesn’t have to be your first step in handling cyberbullying. Let your kids know that should they need to talk with you about a bullying incident, you will remain calm and listen first before reacting.
  • Make sure your child knows that you offer unconditional support. Explain that if she is the target of cyberbullying, you want to work together to have the bullying stop without making the situation worse.
  • Talk with your child about the course of action you should take. Dr. Leff says you should not approach the parent of the child who is being the bully. Instead, find out how your child’s school handles reports of bullying and who your child can speak with if he is having problems, such as a principal or guidance counselor. The key is to work together with your child and his school to find the best solution to the problem.
  • Take any severe threats seriously. Be sure to save all messages as evidence and notify the police if your child is harmed or has received threats of violence.