Kids' Safety

What is cyberbullying and what are the warning signs?

Online socializing has good and bad sides to it. The Internet and social media platforms continue to evolve how we communicate and have added certain conveniences to our lifestyles, but they can also expose us to new risks, as well.

Cyberbullying is one example that can have devastating effects on young people. Cyberbullying occurs when a bully targets a victim using online communication methods such as texting or social media posts to threaten, abuse, or degrade someone. With its use of technology, cyberbullying has gained more attention and notoriety in recent years. It’s a crime that doesn’t restrict itself to school or the playground.

What fuels cyberbullying? Unlike traditional bullying, it doesn’t require physical strength or a face-to-face meeting. Anyone with an Internet connection and a digital device like a smartphone, computer or tablet can be a cyberbully. There are no specific hours, and it can happen around the clock, whether through social networking sites or instant messaging.

Since many platforms don’t make an effort to verify people’s real identities, a cyberbully can choose an alias and remain anonymous. Cyberbullying is fueled by this cloak of anonymity, which often serves to heighten the extent of a cyberbully’s cruel and damaging behavior. It can target anyone, including young kids and middle school and high school students.

According to the 2016 Norton Cyber Security Insights Report, 48 percent of parents believe their children are more likely to be bullied online than on a playground. Finding solutions to combat online bullying should be a priority for parents and school officials. But bullying prevention is a difficult challenge.

The experience of cyberbulling can leave lifelong scars and be harmful a child’s development and self-esteem. Children often have a hard time knowing how to respond when they are harassed. And when they do react, they often don’t completely understand the consequences of their actions.

Cyberbullying can leave some youth depressed or withdrawn, and in some extreme cases has led victims to suicide.

There are many different types of cyberbullying out there, and all of them can be damaging to children and teens.

8 types of cyberbullying

Here are eight types of online bullying:

1. Outing

Outing is a deliberate act to embarrass or publicly humiliate an individual by posting their private, sensitive, or embarrassing information online. The information revealed can be minor or serious, but can have a severe and lasting impact on the victim.

2. Fraping

Fraping is a serious offense where a person gains access to the victim’s social media account and impersonates them in an attempt to be funny or to ruin their reputation. Fraping can have serious consequences, especially because once a social post is out there, it may be hard to delete it and mend the victim’s digital reputation.

3. Dissing

Dissing is when people share or post cruel information about an individual online to ruin their reputation or friendships with others. This includes posting personal photos, videos, and screenshots. The person sharing this information may be a friend or acquaintance of the victim. Some cyberbullies go to great lengths to hurt their victims, even creating webpages designed to spread hurtful information and lies about their victims.

4. Trolling

Trolling is a form of cyberbullying done by insulting an individual online to provoke them enough to get a response. Usually these attacks are personal and instigate anger in the victim, making them lash out and behave badly.

5. Trickery

Trickery is the act of gaining a victim’s trust so that they reveal secrets or embarrassing information, which the cyberbully posts on the Internet for everyone to see. The person pretends to be a close friend and confidant, and gives the victim a false sense of security before breaking his or her trust.

6. Sockpuppets or catfishing

A “sockpuppet” is a form of deception that uses a fake social media account. The creator of the fake account gains their victim’s trust by pretending to be someone they’re not. When their victim divulges private information, the puppeteer shares that personal information with others who may bully the victim. Catfishing similarly involves setting up a fake online profile, but with the purpose of luring its victim into a deceptive online romance.

7. Doxing

Doxing is derived from the word “documents” and occurs when a cyberbully harasses and threatens a victim online for revenge and to destroy their victims’ privacy. Doxing shares private information — such as Social Security numbers, credit cards, phone numbers, and other personal data — with the public.

8. Encouraging self-harm

Some cyberbullies threaten to hurt their victims or convince them to hurt themselves. It can be the worst type of cyberbullying, because it can lead its victims take their lives by suicide.

Cyberbullying warning signs

Cyberbullying comes in many forms and can affect its victims many ways. It’s smart to watch for common warning signs that your child is a victim of cyberbullying, as well as bullying in general.

Depression

A huge warning sign that your child may be the victim of cyberbullying or bullying is if they become withdrawn or seem depressed and sad. Are they losing interest in people or activities they used to enjoy? Are they sleeping in when they usually don’t?

Avoidance of social situations

Does your child or teen seem to be avoiding social situations or friends whom they enjoyed spending time with in the past? Are they spending an inordinate amount of time alone? This could be a signal that something greater, such as cyberbullying, is going on.

Changed frequency of device use

Have you noticed that your child suddenly is always on social media or Snapchat, or texting on their cell phones? This could signal they are the target of cyberbullying — or are doing the bullying. A marked decrease in device use could also be a warning sign. Paying attention to any changes in your child’s online behavior could help you detect trouble.

Secrecy

Does your child hide their devices whenever you’re around or dodge questions about their online activity? They could be hiding the possibility that they are being bullied online. This is an important opportunity for you to intervene, help them sort out their emotions, and put a stop to the harmful behavior.

Heightened emotions

Another warning sign of cyberbullying is if your child seems to get upset or angry when they’re online. Crying is a warning sign. While laughing isn’t a bad thing, it might be if they’re the ones doing or witnessing the cyberbullying.

Suspicious social media account activity

Has your child suddenly cancelled their social media accounts? Or do they seem to have multiple accounts? These could be warning signs that something isn’t right.

Suspicious photos

Have you seen images of your child on their cell phone or others’ social media accounts that are demeaning and inappropriate? Or have you found images of someone else on one of your child’s devices that you know the other person wouldn’t want shared? These are warning signs that either your child is the target or source of cyberbullying.

Hurtful comments

Are there mean comments harassing or embarrassing your child on their social media accounts or in their text messages? Keeping up with their online activity is important, especially so you can spot cyberbullying behavior — such as hurtful comments — before they are deleted. Even if deleted, those comments may inflict emotional damage on your child.

How to protect your child from cyberbullying

How can you help protect a child from cyberbullying? One of the first things parents should do when their child is being cyberbullied is remember to stay aware and calm. Children may not like to tell their parents when they are being cyberbullied because they feel embarrassed or they’re afraid they might lose their internet privileges.

Talk to your kids about cyberbullying. Let them know cyberbullying can be common — that they aren’t the only victims. Teach your kids the basics of online security and stay connected with them daily and digitally.

Another option to keep children safe online is to install reliable online security on all of the devices they access. For instance, Norton Family Premier lets your kids explore the web freely while keeping you in the know about which sites they visit. It comes with parental controls that block unsuitable content for kids and provides insight into your child’s social media activity when they log in to social media sites from their PC.

The security software also helps protect your child from accidentally giving out sensitive personal information from their computer. This includes phone numbers, address, email, and the school they attend. It also alerts you when your child attempts to visit a blocked site.

Cyberbullying is a problem that’s not easy to solve. But awareness and knowledge are the first steps to help keep your children safe online.

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