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How to Prevent Cyberbullying

The Bark Team  |  January 28, 2022

How to prevent cyberbullying

Tons of new apps, platforms, and technologies have created opportunities for kids. They can meet new people, game, learn, and even start businesses — and it all happens online.  

Of course, these new opportunities also bring challenges that parents haven’t faced before, like cyberbullying. Social media and messaging apps bring out the best and worst behavior from all ages. But kids often take the brunt of misbehavior.

Recent studies have shown that cyberbullying affects 70%+ of kids between the ages of 12–17. It's no surprise, then, that parents are more concerned than ever with how to prevent cyberbullying. 

We’re here to help demystify this challenging topic and give you some practical ways to prevent cyberbullying and help keep your kids safe online.

What Is Cyberbullying?

Cyberbullying can be a vague term, but it’s generally used to describe mistreatment someone experiences online. This can take place through harmful messages, exposure of private information, aggressive threats, and other personal attacks.

Online abuse can happen on any device and across social media, email, text, private messaging apps, and many other platforms. 

While this article will talk specifically about how to prevent cyberbullying with kids, these forms of online aggression aren’t only harmful to young people. Offensive, aggressive, and disruptive behavior affects people of every age range and background. If you’ve ever taken a look at the comments section of a political post on Facebook, you’ll know what we mean.

The Impacts of Cyberbullying

Sadly, the effects of cyberbullying are often serious and can last for a long time. It also affects kids in many different ways, and changes in your child’s moods or behavior might be the first clue that something is wrong.

Instead of their normal excitement about being online or hanging out with friends, your child might suddenly keep to themselves. They might also be less willing to open up and talk with you about what's going on in their life. Signs your child may be experiencing cyberbullying include:

  • Avoiding social situations they normally enjoy
  • Leaving social media or deactivating online profiles
  • Not wanting to go to school 
  • Increased anxiety when on their devices

This type of avoidance, anxiety, and emotional drain can cause harm beyond just feeling bad. It can include:

  • Depression 
  • Anxiety
  • Loss of friendships
  • Suicide
  • Eating disorders
  • Substance abuse
  • Reputational damage

How to Spot and Prevent Cyberbullying 

Now let's dive in to identifying cyberbullying. Anyone born in the era before social media probably remembers bullying a little differently. For today’s generation, traditional bullying is an almost entirely different experience than cyberbullying. While schoolyard scraps aren't totally a thing of the past, cyberbullying is now more common than face-to-face bullying. And it's not going away.

Learning how to prevent cyberbullying starts with understanding what it looks like. It isn't always obvious, and it can happen in tons of different ways. This can include email, text, chat, live streaming, online gaming, and much more. 

The trick for many parents is learning the difference between harmful behavior and harmless fun. Abuse, harassment, and other types of cyberbullying can be hard to spot. In some cases, cyberbullying is even sneakily disguised as normal behavior. Fake accounts, coded language, and memes are like a digital camouflage for mistreatment.

Types of Cyberbullying

We know that the internet can be a weird and confusing place sometimes, and kids tend to be a little more tech-savvy than their parents. You may find it helpful to brush up on the different types of cyberbullying, and how it looks online. Below are some of the most frequent ways that cyberbullying is experienced:

  • Harassment 
  • Doxing (when someone reveals private information about you on the internet)
  • Threats

So, how does cyberbullying actually appear online? What should you be looking for? It takes many forms, but any of the following might be a good reason to look a little closer at your child’s accounts and interactions:

  • Use of an offensive or derogatory name
  • Slander in the form of rumor sharing or false information
  • Receiving a lewd or promiscuous image 
  • Being asked to take and send a sexually suggestive or explicit photo
  • Non-consensual sharing of a private image
  • Open or disguised threats of violence
  • Wrongful reporting of personal profiles for platform rule violations (to get them removed)

Now, if you want to read a more in-depth explanation of these cyberbullying types and see examples, check out our full blog post

Ways to Prevent Cyberbullying 

Intervening to stop cyberbullying isn’t always easy. Parents know that their kids may not want to have a conversation about online activity. Children, on the other hand, don’t want to get in trouble or have their phones taken away. To some kids, revealing the content of their messages and posts can feel like an invasion of privacy. 

Breaking through this discomfort will probably get easier over time as you work on communication and reinforce good habits.  

First, we recommend creating a tech contract with your kids. This agreement can outline expectations for online behavior, including:

  • When they can use their phone
  • What apps they can use
  • How they should act while online
  • What the consequences are for violations

Teens may welcome your help, surprisingly. Some actually feel that adults are not doing enough to monitor and prevent cyberbullying. Whether they've experienced cyberbullying or not, your kids might be ready to talk more about it.

Lastly, before you talk about bullying that your child is experiencing, make sure you have the facts. Awareness is key to having a healthy, productive conversation.  

Now, let's talk through some specific steps that you can take to help prevent cyberbullying. What you're hoping to learn is probably dependent on how cyberbullying is affecting your family, so we've separated our guidance into two sections. 

If Your Child Is Being Bullied

  1. Report what’s happening. Encourage your kids to speak up if they see instances of cyberbullying online. By creating an environment of awareness and accountability, you can encourage your kids to call out and reject inappropriate activity. It’s also important for kids to know who they should tell about the inappropriate activity. Other adults (like teachers, coaches, and mentors) in your kid's lives can create a broader network of eyes and ears. Periodically touching base with these people can help you keep track of problematic activity.
  2. Educate and stay up to date. Teach your kids what cyberbullying looks like, and how to understand the difference between having fun and causing harm. Blogs like ours help you decode internet trends, slang, and behavior.
  3. Support and step in. The experience of bullying may cause your child to feel embarrassed, ashamed, or guilty. Help your child understand that they aren't responsible for cyberbullying they've experienced. Getting rid of the stigma around experiences of cyberbullying makes kids more likely to report it when it happens.
  4. Find the root cause of cyberbullying. The social dynamics of bullying can be complicated. Is your child caught in an ongoing feud between friends? Were they standing up for someone else online? Is it possible that they’re experiencing retaliation for things that they said or did first? Understanding why cyberbullying is happening will help you step in where and how it’s needed.
  5. Limit their exposure to harm. Teach your kids how to remove themselves from negative online situations in safe and healthy ways. When experiencing cyberbullying, kids sometimes may want to quit social media altogether. Long term, though, they might miss interacting with friends and using their favorite apps. Addressing the underlying sources of abuse is usually a better option, though temporary account deactivations or breaks from social media might make your child feel better.
  6. Protect their accounts. Doxing or illegal sharing of personal information often happens when accounts aren't secure enough. Changing passwords, restricting access, and using two-factor authentication are all recommended — even for your kid’s accounts.
  7. Use a tool like Bark to monitor online activity. Early detection is key for keeping things from quickly getting out of hand. Bark does much more than just monitor online activity. Created in partnership with experts in child psychology, Bark is designed to help parents better understand and oversee their kids’ online activity. We do this through sentiment analysis, screen time management, and more.

If Your Child Is Bullying

Figuring out how to prevent cyberbullying is a little different when your child could be the instigator. So if you know (or think) that your child is cyberbullying others, there are a few things to consider when deciding how to intervene:

  • Your child might be acting in self-defense or be caught in a situation that they didn’t cause. Talking to them is a good first step for your own awareness and context.
  • Establishing consequences can help, especially if they are enforced consistently. Of course, the decision to discipline or create consequences looks different for many families.
  • The legal and social impacts of your child’s behavior could be serious depending on their actions and how it has affected others. 

You can read more about how to detect signs that your child may be bullying and how to approach this difficult subject in a productive way.

Cyberbullying is an all-too-common occurrence in today’s digital age.  Plus, kids often have to figure out how to deal with cyberbullying when growing up, facing academic pressure, dealing with social challenges, and a lot more. With the right monitoring tools and approach, it’s easier to have an honest conversation with your kids. Then, you can let them know that you’re here to listen, support, and help where needed.

Bark helps families manage and protect their children’s digital lives.

mother and daughter discussing Bark Parental Controls