For every parent and guardian, online safety is a significant concern and part of that safety is preventing emotional abuse.
Cyberbullying is one of the most common internet dangers for children and teens, and one of the hardest bullying methods to catch and prevent. People feel free to attack in the digital realm because they aren’t faced with the real-time ramifications of their bullying or the usual consequences of being found in the act.
How can you tell if your child is at the receiving end of cyberbullying? Although some of the signs are obvious, like a child showing nervousness about having to spend time around others, a few of the signs might seem counterintuitive, like a flood of new friends on social media accounts. To pick up on the presence of cyberbullying, you have to pay close attention to a child’s behavior and the accumulation of symptoms.
Look for Changes in How They Use Their Devices
Your kids might try to avoid the problem by blocking certain accounts that are causing them grief, or they might even delete their own social media accounts because they can’t get away from the abuse they face there. If you hear anything about them deleting an account or avoiding a social media platform, ask about it right away to figure out the reason behind the decisive action.
More subtle signals include abruptly walking away from or shutting off their devices while in the midst of using them, and marked variations in how much time they spend attached to electronics. Interest in being online naturally fluctuates, but it never hurts to ask about the changes, because sometimes there are problematic motivations.
Look for Unusual Nervousness
An obvious red flag is if a child looks anxious after receiving an instant message, text, or email, but a marked change in personality can also be a symptom. If he becomes withdrawn or shy when he had been outgoing before, or if he shows a sudden decrease in self-esteem, the root might be cyberbullying.
A child’s unwillingness to share with you about online activity should not be dismissed as normal: if she refuses to open up to you about what goes on in the virtual world she is exposed to, you have every right to be concerned.
Look for Changes in Physical Habits
Internalizing any form of bullying can result in severe physical reactions. Unexplained stomachaches or headaches, trouble sleeping at night, weight loss, or weight gain can all point to emotional abuse. Stress from external sources can create a remarkably unhealthy environment for your kids, so do not overlook the possibility that health issues may stem from cyberbullying.
Look for Academic Problems
Another obvious sign is uneasiness about going to school, or attempts to feign illness to escape attendance. However, getting in trouble at school, a drop in grades, or a loss of interest in classes are all clues pointing towards either online or offline bullying.
Look for Emotional Swings
Anxiety and stress are clear indicators of a problem, but the cause is not always bullying. Clearer signs of a correlation between cyberbullying and emotional reactions include unexplained anger, moodiness, and depression while online or after getting off devices, as well as aggressive behavior and avoiding things previously enjoyed. Isolation from friends and family in real life is also a symptom that not everything is as it should be online.
As children grow up on the internet and experience a whole new dimension of their reality in the virtual world, your job to be on the lookout for these warning signs has never been more critical. Your first line of defense is to maintain open communication with your kids, to be there for them, even before things go bad—but being aware of the symptoms of cyberbullying can save your loved ones from hurting alone for too long.