Being a parent in 2015 is kind of a big job. It’s no longer enough to check homework every night and ask how things are going at school. In a world where everyone has a life that extends to social media things like bullying extend far beyond school hallways. Bullying follows you home, it’s on your computer screen and in your smart phone and it can often be invisible. This sort of bullying can take a serious toll on kids since it’s impossible to escape even in the privacy of their own homes. It can also be nearly invisible to parents unless they know what to look for.
The signs of bullying in the social media age can be much harder to spot since they don’t come with the usual warnings. Cyber bullies don’t leave bruises, destroy clothing or other possessions, and often don’t come to the attention of school officials. There are often no physical altercations or material symptoms of any kind so parents need to be extra alert to protect their kids. Here are some things to look for.
Kids who are extremely private about their social media use, unwilling to share the messages they receive online or constantly vigilant about protecting their online privacy. It’s normal for kids to want their own space, especially online, but if your child is guarding their privacy a bit too aggressively then that might be sign that something is wrong. While invading your child’s privacy might seem a little draconian, looking in on their social media use or asking them to share things with you can be a good way to keep tabs on potential problems.
If your child has become increasingly moody or withdrawn, and if this moodiness tends to coincide with time spent on Facebook or other social platforms that might also indicate a problem.
Take note if your child suddenly loses interest in groups or activities that they used to enjoy. This can be a sign of depression brought on by any number of factors, but cyberbullies often aim to separate or alienate kids from things they enjoy. If your child is suddenly refusing to participate in activities, clubs, or sports that were once a big part of their life that’s a red flag.
Sudden decline in grades. Especially in younger children a sudden drop in grades usually signals a problem. Children who are cyberbullied often lose focus on studies and school as they attempt to cope with harassment. Keep an eye on any sudden change in academic performance and if it doesn’t seem to be linked to a particular subject this may be a warning sign.
Sudden withdrawal from friends or family members to whom they were once close. Cyberbullies are often former friends or aquaintances. If a child is suddenly uninterested in seeing a particular friend or group of friends but can’t offer a reason why this might be a sign that something has gone awry.
Victims of cyberbullying are often reluctant or unwilling to go to school. A child who frequently fakes illness in order to avoid a school or other obligations might be trying to avoid confronting in real life that they’re experiencing online.
Suddenly losing interest in social media or deleting accounts on popular platforms. While this can be a positive choice to avoid cyberbullies it might also be a sign that those platforms have become toxic. For better or worse most young people feel a need to participate in social media. If your child is choosing to isolate themselves from popular platforms then a cyberbully might be the reason.
For the most part the symptoms of cyberbullying are similar to traditional bullying. Because parents are often absent or less engaged on social media it can be easy for them to miss the more obvious signs such as hostile messages or targeted group harassment. In many cases the best way to spot cyberbullying early is to be a part of your child’s social media life. Joining platforms like Facebook and adding your child as a friend is a great way to monitor their activity and to engage with them in a comfortable environment. Of course if a child seems sad or withdrawn there could be any number of causes. Usually the wisest move a parent can make is to simply ask, and keep asking. Keeping a dialogue open is usually the best way to spot trouble before it gets out of hand.