Cyberbullying: protecting your students and children beyond the playground

The traditional behaviors associated with childhood arguments or gossip, which typically happened on school playgrounds, have moved to a new level – cyberspace. Now more than ever, bullying comes in the form of hurtful and hateful words and images exchanged via text message or social media.

“Children who are the victims of cyberbullying tend to struggle in school and deal with emotional issues,” said Kevin Hayes, DO, a pediatrician with ThedaCare Physicians Pediatrics-Apple-ton. “My patients and their parents need to know medical professionals can help them cope with the impact of cyberbullying.”

According to data analysis and recent Pew Research studies on cyberbullying, more than half of online users are victims of cyberbullying. The U.S. Department of Education’s research and data says that is a greater number than past years, even though “the overall number of students who report being bullied stayed the same.” Furthermore, the National Center for Education Statistics analysis reveals “three times as many girls report being harassed online or by text message than boys.”

This online abuse can take a toll on school-aged kids. Dr. Hayes explained the first step in turning around this trend is for parents to be aware of how serious the issue of cyberbullying is and then to educate themselves on the best ways to help their child avoid being victimized by it.

 

“At times, it is a difficult subject to approach, as many parents may be unaware that cyberbullying is happening,” he said. “If you notice any behavior changes, start asking questions to ensure your child isn’t a victim of cyberbullying.”

Dr. Hayes suggests these conversation starters: What have you heard about cyberbullying? What are other kids saying about you online? What are you saying about others online?

The line of questioning should evoke your values. “If you want your child to be kind, say it and review his or her posts to make sure comments are complimentary in nature,” Dr. Hayes suggests. “Call out any harmful terms and remind them not to write anything online that they wouldn’t want said about themselves.” With online bullying starting at an earlier age, health professionals suggest parents have “the talk” by age 10.

“Parents need to educate themselves and their child on what cyberbullying is and create a safe environment, so their child knows it is all right to talk with their parents about bullying,” he said. “You want them to know you take this seriously. Keeping the lines of communication open with your kids is key.”

It’s also important to give a child the tools to protect themselves. “Instill confidence in them,” Dr. Hayes explained. “Bullies often back off if they sense a fellow student might stand up for themselves.”

According to stopbullying.gov, here are the top health-related signs your child might be a victim of cyberbullying: Unexplainable injuries; fre-quent headaches or stomach aches, feeling sick or faking illness; changes in eating habits, like suddenly skipping meals or binge eating; difficulty sleeping; feelings of helplessness or decreased self-esteem.

Dr. Hayes advises parents who suspect their child is being cyberbullied to make an appointment with their pediatrician to assess the possible mental and physical impact it might have on their child.

 

“It’s important that fam-ilies work with care teams to develop a plan that is right for each child,” he said. “You want to help your child sooner rather than later with any cyberbullying-related issues to set them up for success this school year.”