By Laura Pearson, creator of Edutude

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When you think of bullying, what comes to mind? Name calling? Getting beaten up? Spreading rumors? How each of us sees bullying is personal because it stems from our own life experiences. We’ve all been bullied in some way: verbally, emotionally, and even physically. We’ve been made to feel like we don’t fit in, we don’t measure up, or we don’t belong. Moreover, most of us have probably even been the bully at one time or another.

According to StopBullying.gov, bullying is defined as “unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance. The behavior is repeated, or has the potential to be repeated, over time. Bullying includes actions such as making threats, spreading rumors, attacking someone physically or verbally, and excluding someone from a group on purpose.”

Bullying knows no age, race, gender, weight, or sexual orientation. You can be bullied for being old or young, white or black, male or female, fat or thin, straight or gay. You can be bullied for what you wear or how you talk. You can be bullied for your differing abilities, your intelligence, or your athleticism. The only qualification for being a victim is that you don’t fit with the narrow view of what’s “cool” in the eyes of the person or group doing the bullying.

Bullying can be blatant, in the form of hate speech, written threats, or physical attacks. Or it can be more subtle. Known as microaggressions, these displays of discrimination are less overt and, as a result, often go unnoticed and uncorrected. Microassaults, microinsults, and microinvalidation are categorized by an intentional disregard for or lack of sensitivity to a person’s differences and are just as hurtful as their full-blown counterparts: assaults, insults, and invalidation.  

Bullying can be perpetrated in any number of ways. As adults, bullying often takes the form of discrimination like racism, sexism, and classism. Maybe a female coworker is passed up for a promotion in favor of a male counterpart, even though she is more qualified. As children, it comes along in the form of schoolyard taunts, back-of-the-bus whispers and, most recently, online attacks.

Unlike when we were kids, technology is a fact of life. And, in many cases, that’s a good thing. Technology can be a powerful teaching and communication tool, providing access to knowledge and resources well beyond those available in textbooks or at the local library. But it can also be dangerous, allowing children untethered access to one another’s lives via sites like Facebook, Instagram, and Snapchat, oftentimes with little to no adult supervision.

That’s why more than half of parents to school-aged children are worried their child will be bullied via social media… and for good reason. Approximately one third of students say they have experienced cyberbullying in their lifetime, while 15% of kids admitted to cyberbullying others. These experiences can lead to low self-esteem, increased depression, and other mental health problems. Cyberbullying has even been a major contributing factor in cases of suicidal ideation and suicide.

So how, as a parent, can you protect your child from the perils of cyberbullying?

  1. Pay Attention - You know your child better than anyone. Is he or she acting strangely? Anxiety or anger after spending time online could be a sign your child is experiencing cyberbullying. You should also look for changes in general behavior or demeanor, like uncharacteristic bouts of depression or a change in sleeping or eating habits.

  2. Have a Conversation - Teach your children about online issues before it becomes a problem. Explain what cyberbullying is and how to handle it, and let them know they can always come to you if they encounter anything inappropriate, upsetting, or dangerous. Don’t threaten to take away access to technology, however, as it will only make your child more secretive.

  3. Get Involved - Kids won’t always come to their parents if there is something wrong, so it’s important to build a network of people who care about your child and will look out for them. Get to know your kids’ teachers, coaches, and even their friends’ parents... and don’t hesitate to reach out to them if you suspect your child is being bullied.

  4. Monitor Online Engagement - Since most cyberbullying takes place at home, maintaining transparency is important. Start by keeping an eye on your child’s social media profiles from your own accounts, and ensure you can access his or her account if necessary. You may even want to consider limiting social media use to common areas of the home, rather than allowing it to happen behind closed doors.

  5. Set Limits - Part of the reason cyberbullying is so detrimental is because it’s inescapable. It doesn’t stop when the kids go home for the day, on the weekends, or over summer break. Limiting screen time and social media access will give your child a break from being connected. Just make sure you tell them why you’re doing it, so they don’t think it’s a punishment.

Laura Pearson is the creator of Edutude. She believes that every student has great potential and aims to help as many as possible unlock it. With Edutude, she strives to find unique, creative ways for parents and educators to encourage students to be challenged, motivated and excited by learning.

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