Prevention Strategies for Online Bullying
Author: Lee Dal Pra, AM, LCSW – Director of Child Programs Chicago
Computers, smartphones, and gaming systems have emerged as a permanent and unavoidable part of child development. Technology is an exciting playground in which children can learn, create and connect. In fact, for many young people, social media and online games are a primary source of socialization. Although this idea may garner negative reactions from adults, social media and online socialization can positively influence youth in terms of social and emotional growth.[i] Social media sites allow for youth to stay connected with family members, collaborate with peers for academic purposes, build relationships with peers, and participate in social services activities. Although it may appear as though youth are just chatting online, they are actually developing key skills and proficiencies that will allow them to better navigate a growing technological world.[ii] However, this leap from offline to online social engagement brings new concerns and risks for parents, such as online bullying.
Technology has created a new platform for bullying behavior. This aggressive and intimidating behavior now has an expansive audience and can take many forms. From video games to texting, the emotional impact of interacting with aggressors online is distinctly challenging for children and adolescents. Studies suggest that serious online bullying may contribute to mental health issues and struggles in emotional development for youth.[iii] The psychological effects may be a result of the anonymity of bullies, the difficulty in removing online content, and publicity of the bullying act.[iv] Prevention strategies, however, may play a role in mediating the psychological impacts of online bullying.
One of the most important strategies for bullying prevention is frequently discussing online risks with children and adolescents. Teens are highly unlikely to report online bullying to a parent due to the belief that they will be reprimanded and have privileges removed.[v] Parents may consider the helpful strategy of creating a contract that includes clear guidelines as to family reactions and responses to online bullying experiences. Contracts may contain information on what online bullying includes, how to go about reporting it to a trusted family member or adult, and how the adult will respond to the report. Help empower children and teens by making this a working document that allows for their input. When parents and caregivers are frequently talking about and setting the precedent for online safety, young people may better understand and take precautions with online interactions.
Many families are already setting the stage for online bullying prevention without even realizing it. Empathy and caring support from friends and family has shown to reduce the likelihood of a child becoming a victim of bullying, as well as engaging in bullying behavior.[vi] This type of caring support often shows up as non-contingent family time. Frequently, these moments are activities or shared experiences in which family members spend quality time together without reprimands or critiques of one another. For some parents, this may be an opportunity to engage online with their child and tether their technological experiences to the real world.
Although bullying’s online presence has made it increasingly difficult for parents to detect the presence of harassment and aggression, it is still possible for parents to participate in and facilitation the prevention of bullying. Maintaining an open line of communication is important in all aspects of the parent-child relationship, particularly in regards to a child’s engagement online. Creating and sticking to predetermined guidelines for parental responses to online bullying can preempt a child’s anxiety about disclosing bullying to parents. These discussions can begin with parents and caregivers casually talking to youth about their online experiences, as well as joining them in online activities to better their experiences. This sort of bonding and connection can help children and teens to feel they have a safe space to discuss complicated online interactions.
[i] O’Keefe, G.S. & Clark-Pearson, K. (2011). Clinical report—The impact of social media on children, adolescents, and families. Pediatrics. 124(4), 800-804. Doi: 10.1542/peds.2011-0054
[ii] Ito, M., Horst H., Bittani M., Boyd, D., Herr-Stephenson, B., Lange, C.J., …Tripp, L. (2008). Living and learning with new media: Summary of findings from the digital youth project. John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Reports on Digital Media and Learning. Retrieved from http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/127/4/800.full.pdf+html
[iii] Davison, C. B., & Stein, C. H. (2014). The dangers of cyberbullying. North American Journal of Psychology, 16(3), 595-606.
[iv] Feinberg, T. & Robey, N. (2010). Cyberbullying: Interventions and prevention strategies. Retrieved from http://www.nasponline.org/resources/bullying/cyberbullying.pdf
[v] Juvonen J. & Gross E.F. (2008). Extending the school grounds?––Bullying experiences in cyberspace. Journal of School Health. 78(9):496-505. Doi: 10.1111/j.1746-1561.2008.00335.x
[vi] Kowalski, R. M., Giumetti, G. W., Schroeder, A. N., & Lattanner, M. R. (2014). Bullying in the digital age: A critical review and meta-analysis of cyberbullying research among youth. Psychological Bulletin, 140(4), 1073-1137. doi:10.1037/a0035618