With the advancement and accessibility of technological devices, children are being exposed younger and younger to gadgets such as cell phones. People use them to access their Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, and other social networking sites as well as basic text messaging. Where older adults may have gotten their first cell phone when they were much older, children are getting cell phones at a greatly younger age than sociologists have ever seen.

Children, on average, are now given their first cell phone around the age of 11, and studies have shown that 1 in 10 are less than half that age—almost guaranteeing that most children by the middle school will have access to a cellular device. With this, children communicate largely on these devices, taking away from previous face-to-face conversations that older generations are used to. With this lack of face-to-face contact, cyberbullying has taken the world by storm, removing the accountability that children feel for the words they say online and through text messages.

Due to devices such as cell phones, bullying has dramatically changed its form. Whereas older bullying was more along the lines of physical abuse and taunting in the school halls, bullying now involves a greater amount of psychological abuse and trauma toward the child and results in feelings of statically more feeling of worthlessness than is seen with physical bullying.

Cyberbullying involves the use of hurtful and negative words toward another through a technological device, much of the time giving other peers access to the hurting words as well. For example, if Lisa posts on her Facebook status that “Patricia is a whore,” it is available for not only Patricia to see but everyone Lisa is friends with and likely everyone Patricia is friends with as well—creating a sense of embarrassment and isolation.

According to a study by i-SAFE Foundation which gathers bullying statistics, over ½ of adolescents have been bullied online—around the same amount admitted to bullying others—and over 25% of that was through their cellphones. A study reported by the Harford County Examiner also found similar information and that girls were more likely than boys to be cyberbullied.

80% of teenagers have reported using their cellphone regularly, making the device the most common medium for cyberbullying used. However, whether they are boys or girls—in elementary, middle, or high school, children can be victimized by their peers through cyberbullying texts and social networking sites.

If you believe that your children are being bullied online or through their cellphone, helping them is the natural response, and doing so can save your child from feeling alone or worse.

Tips for Parents/Guardians

1. Approach the Child or Teen

While children are being cyberbullied, there are still some who are not and it is important to know if your child is truly being harassed. Approach your child straightforward, but gently, by asking him/her if they are being treated well by their peers. According to studies done by dosomething.org, an organization for adolescents to evoke positive change in the world, only 1 in 10 children who are being cyberbullied will actually tell their parents.

If your child seems weary or taken back by your questioning, you may want to investigate further. You know your child, and knowing if they are acting differently is the first key to addressing the problem if there is one. However, letting your child know you are there to help, if and when they need it, reassures him/her that if the problem turns into one they cannot handle that they are not alone.

2. Don’t Invade Their Privacy Unless Necessary

Resorting to actions such as checking the child’s phone, computers, and so on should only be used if you believe there is a problem your child is not telling you about. Of course, it is your right as a parent to search through whatever you deem necessary, but know that adolescents often take invasion of privacy very seriously and they will feel as though you are pushing into their business and might be less likely to open up if there really is a problem. Begin with addressing your child first, but if your child seems hesitant and secretive, it might be best to get a look at the problem firsthand.

3. Listen to Your Child/Teen

If your child comes to you and tells you that they are in fact being bullied online, it is important to listen to them fully and not to press them aggressively with questions or accusations. You should note that it was probably hard for your child to come to you in the first place, and you should appreciate his/her maturity to seek help when he/she needs it—tell them this. Listen with an open mind and heart and let your child know that you will be there for him/her.

Online harassment, as with physical harassment, can be severely damaging to a developing child’s self-esteem. Children who are bullied are 2-9 times more likely to commit suicide than those who are not, so it is important to be gentle and nonjudgmental. Reassure your child that you are there for him/her and that what bullies say is only a depiction of the bully’s character, not the victim’s.

4. Give Him/Her the Right Advice

It might be hard to know what to tell your child if he/she comes to you asking how to approach a cyberbully. Cyberbullying is somewhat recent and many parents did not have to deal with this type of bullying and harassment when they were their children’s age. Therefore, it is important to think about how to help your child in relation to the severity of his/her specific situation.

Advice to Give Your Child

1. Let your child know it is not their fault

Often adolescents feel that they are the object of ridicule due to their appearance, which is more evident in bullying females. Females are 58% more likely to harass another girl and they often use psychological techniques in order to ruin a girl’s reputation. A vivid depiction of this is in “Slut Shaming” which is making a girl feel guilty about her sexual behavior or lack of, and can be severely damaging to a girl’s self-image as well as attract inappropriate attention.

Let your child know that it was not his/her actions that are causing them to be harassed. Instead, let them know that the bully’s behaviour is unacceptable and a sign of the bully’s poor behaviour and not their own. Reassure your child with positive notes of his/her behaviour, attitude, and appearance to build his/her self-esteem so that your child understands that what his/her bully is saying is not at all a correct assessment.

2. Don’t Respond with Physical Force

When people feel threatened, they will at times resort to violent behaviour in order to stop the bully from harassing them. Cyberbullying texts are strictly words used to hurt someone through the use of technology; therefore, oftentimes, schools are unlikely to consider it a form of harassment that they deal with because it oftentimes does not happen at the school and because it is not a physical threat.

This, of course, does not mean that it is not as damaging. Let your child know that he/she needs to be passive in response to their bully. Oftentimes, children bully to get a rise out of someone they do not like or to provoke them to get them into trouble; therefore, let your child know that the best way to deal with a bully is to not let him/her get to them and retaliating with passive resistance can often be beneficial.

3. Return to the “Sticks and Stones” Philosophy

Remind your child that he/she can only be damaged by cyberbullying texts if he/she lets them. Reassure your child that he/she is strong and resilient and that in life people will try to knock him/her down in order to feel better about themselves. Help your child understand that bullying, while cruel, is common even in the adult world, though it often takes different forms in later life. However, reassure your child that their ability to not be broken down by bullies makes him/her braver and stronger than the bully.

Remind your child that no matter what the bully says—they are just words and that he/she can overcome them even if at the time he/she feels hurt and embarrassed. Referring to a time when you were bullied or a time you stuck up for someone being bullied can also be beneficial. Showing your child that even you were bullied will help the child feel less alone and isolated and he/she will have a visual representation of someone who overcame what he/she is facing.

A Final Word

If your child is being cyberbullied, it is important to let him/her know that they are not alone and that you are there for them if they need help. Give your child guidance without making them feel you are being overborne, especially with teenagers. If you feel your child is being abused and harassed to a point of depression or anxiety, however, it may be necessary to contact the child’s school or the police.

Sources: “11 Facts About Cyber Bullying.” DoSomething.org.