Internet Safety for Kids: How to Combat Cyberbullying

November is Child Safety & Prevention Month. In a previous blog post, we covered advice security experts tell their kids to help keep them safe online. In this post, we’ll take a look at how cyberbullying is defined, what states have done to combat cyberbullying, and tell you what you can do to combat the issue.

Defining Cyberbullying

The U.S. Department of Health (DOH) defines bullying as repeated “unwanted, aggressive behavior among school children that involves a real or perceived imbalance.” Bullying can involve making threats, spreading rumors, physically attacking someone, or purposely excluding someone from an activity.

The ubiquity of the Internet has given rise to a new type of bullying: cyberbullying. The DOH defines cyberbullying as “bullying that takes place over digital devices like cell phones, computers, and tablets” and can include any number of activities:

Spreading rumors online or through texts
Posting hurtful or threatening messages on social networking sites or web pages
Posting a mean or hurtful video or picture
Pretending to be someone else online to hurt another person
Taking unflattering pictures of a person and sharing them online
Sexting, or circulating sexually suggestive pictures or messages about a person

Bullying itself can lead to increased risk for anxiety and depression, and cyberbullying is no different. The ease with which it can occur and the swiftness of its repetitive nature as more and more kids have access to connected devices can cause it to take a more serious turn.

States Respond to Cyberbullying

Recent statistics show that more than a third of children and teens have experienced cyberbullying, and its prevalence has prompted many states to enforce laws against it.

All states have criminal laws that can apply to bullying behaviors, and all but two states include explicit references to electronic forms of bullying. And in every state but Montana, bullying laws mandate that schools have a formal policy in place to help identify bullying behavior and define disciplinary responses.

Not all state bullying laws are created equal, however. Based off analysis of six weighted factors (including school sanctions for cyberbullying, existing state bullying laws, school discipline for off-campus behavior, and the percentage of students in grades 9–12 that have reported being cyberbullied), ten states are addressing the issue head on: Florida, Arkansas, Tennessee, Michigan, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Washington, DC.

In contrast, Washington, Oregon, Montana, Utah, Arizona, Colorado, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Ohio provide the fewest legal protections against cyberbullying. For example, most of these states don’t have a specific state statute that allows schools to discipline students for off-campus behavior.

Still, the Internet transcends state borders, which means it can be hard to protect children from digital threats and intimidation. As a parent or teacher, what else can you do to help prevent cyberbullying? There are a number of online resources available, and one particularly useful tool is Facebook’s

Facebook Bully Prevention Hub

For victims of bullying, it suggests four things to do:

1. Stay calm
2. Tell someone you trust
3. Be safe
4. Don’t retaliate

The advice sounds simple enough. Like any emotionally charged situation, taking a deep breath can help calm you down so you can respond in an appropriate manner. For kids and teens, though, it can be tricky to pause and take a deep breath as the natural impulse is to respond. So talking to your kids about ways to calm themselves is key, as is practicing those methods yourself.

Facebook also provides three key tips to help you talk to your kids:

1. Prepare
2. Talk
3. Action plan

Preparing includes staying calm, listening to your child and taking concerns seriously, and finding the best place for the conversation.

There are two key things to keep in mind when talking to your kids: 1. Be supportive. 2. Be empathetic. In other words, listen to your kids and let them tell their story of what’s happened instead of being critical or assigning blame. Share your own experiences with bullying and find ways to relate to your kid’s situation.

Your action plan may vary by situation. If it’s a serious situation, like threats, take immediate action by notifying appropriate people, like the school principal or counselor. Work with your kids, too, and involve them as you search for a solution.

Once you settle on a suitable action plan, report the cyberbullying incident to the appropriate online service or platform. Though the response may not be immediate, there are other steps you can take to protect your child online, like changing privacy settings.

Privacy Settings

An often overlooked—but important—online safety aspect is the privacy settings of apps and social networking sites. According to social media stats compiled by GuardChild, a website created by parents for parents, 24% of social network users aren’t confident in their ability to use privacy settings while 66% of active adults don’t know privacy controls exists on social networking sites like Facebook.

Though some fields on Facebook are public by default, you can limit who can see your information by choosing your audience: public, friends, or for your eyes only.

So, for example, you can limit who can see where you go to school to your immediate Facebook friends or just yourself. If your kids have Facebook accounts, they can do the same, which will help limit the amount of suspicious friend requests they may receive.

Use Facebook’s Privacy Checkup function to see what information others can see and make any necessary changes.

Other popular websites and social networking platforms also take online safety seriously, and offer privacy settings that you can adjust. For example, Instagram has two settings: public or private. Instagram also lets you block people, report posts or comments, and delete comments. SnapChat lets you decide who can contact you, view your Stories, and see you in its Quick Add function.

Additional Resources

Facebook’s Bully Prevention Hub is just one online resource for dealing with cyberbullying. Here’s a list of other resources:
Teen Safe
The American Federation of Teachers

Remember to check the support section of social networks for tips on privacy settings, and how to report harmful online behavior. Together, we can help put a stop to cyberbullying.