While technology brings many joys such as connection, funny videos, and unlimited resources, it also presents youth with added social pressures and risks that they may not know how to navigate on their own. Cyberbullying is one type of risk that can have very large impacts on children and adolescents, and can take place virtually anywhere. Your child might be ashamed or afraid to admit if they are being bullied, or they may keep quiet due to not wanting their parents to worry about them.
Here are some key tips from our clinical team on how to spot signs of bullying and what you as their caregiver can do to help.
Signs Your Child Might Be a Victim of Bullying
Children and teens who are experiencing bullying by their peers might be reluctant to talk about it to others. This can be due to fear, embarrassment, not wanting their parents to worry, low self-esteem, or, in some cases, they may lack the know-how to express themselves. Instead, mental health professionals have found that many children will exhibit “warning signs” that they need help through their behaviors.
Here are some warning signs that your child may be a victim of bullying:
- School refusal or avoidance
- A sudden decrease in academic performance
- Increased isolation from others
- Expressing disinterest in favorite activities
- Low self-confidence
- Self-deprecating statements
- Sudden mood changes
- Frequent reports of physical ailments (like headaches or stomach aches)
- Physical injuries without a clear explanation
- Returning home with damaged or missing belongings
You may also observe your child becoming upset during or after using technology, spending an unusual time online or ceasing internet use altogether, or hiding what they’re doing on the internet when a caregiver is present.
How to Talk to Your Child About Bullying
If you suspect your child may be a victim of cyberbullying or other types of bullying, it is important that you, as their trusted caregiver, help create a sense of safety and openness for communication.
Active listening is an excellent way to show your child that you are present and genuinely care about what they have to say. Reassure your child that you are here to help and let them know the bullying is not their fault. Finding ways to problem solve together can be very empowering for your child.
You might feel that involving the school is the next best step. Talk to your child about your plans and encourage their participation in the process if they are comfortable. Identify other safe adults at school or in their other social environments that they can reach out to for support when needed.
Praise your child for having the courage to tell you about the bullying. Consider connecting your child to a mental health counselor for additional support.
How to Support a Child Who is Bullying Someone Else
Some children or teens who are struggling with their mental health or other life challenges might have a difficult time managing their emotions in social settings. This can impact their ability to connect with others in a socially appropriate and safe way. If you have concerns that your child or teen is acting out aggressively—either verbally or physically towards others—and is engaging in bullying behaviors, it is important to recognize that these behaviors are likely a coverup for bigger emotions, and they too are in need of support from caring adults.
Identify a safe and trusting adult your child might be comfortable talking with. This might be yourself, a close family member, or even a school guidance counselor. Have a discussion around their feelings and the impact of their behaviors on themselves and others. Work on setting clear limits around what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior, particularly around maintaining safety for your child and those around them. Practice building empathy. For young children, this might be through play and social stories. For older children, this might look like building insight into their own emotions, fostering positive social connections and promoting a sense of purpose and belonging to their immediate and larger community. Praise your child when they make good, pro-social and empathetic choices. Also consider seeking additional support from a mental health counselor.
While one’s first instinct might be to limit internet use altogether, clinical experts recommend instead teaching your child to be a responsible internet user. It is important that children learn how to safely navigate social situations, including online social interactions, so they can better develop social, emotional and problem solving skills later in life.
Some helpful tips to practice are:
- Talking to your child about what they are doing on the internet. Your child might be fearful of having their phone or internet privileges taken away if they tell the truth. To help them speak honestly, consider other solutions to address your concerns and keep your child safe without punishment.
- Develop rules for electronic and internet use. Explore with your child what is acceptable and unacceptable to do on the internet. It’s also important to have a plan in place for if your child experiences or witnesses inappropriate behavior on the internet.
- Educate yourself on the devices and social media platforms your child is using. Assess the pros and cons of these platforms and learn more about what benefits your child may be gaining, as well as what risks are involved. Collaborate with other caregivers and the school for ideas around technology use and what can be done to enhance your children’s safety as a community.
Final Thoughts & Additional Resources
If your child is experiencing challenges with their mental health as a result of bullying or other concerns, consider reaching out for additional support.
Here are some helpful resources that you or your child can use:
- NAMI HelpLine — Call #1-800-950-NAMI (6264), text #62640, chat nami.org/help or email at HelpLine@nami.org
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline — Call 800-273-TALK (8255), available 24/7
- Crisis Text Line — Text NAMI to 741-741
- Connect with a trained crisis counselor to receive free, 24/7 crisis support via text message.
- National Crisis Text Line — Call or text 988 or chat at 988lifeline.org
- Connect with a trained crisis counselor. 988 is confidential, free, and available 24/7.
If you feel your child may need to speak with a professional for ongoing care, your primary care provider and/or insurance plan can be a good place to start for referrals. Valera Health also offers telemental health for children and adolescents ages six and up, including individual therapy and psychiatry services. Visit www.valerahealth.com or click here to request a consultation.