Spotting the Signs of Cyberbullying: A Guide for Parents

Technology changes at a breathtaking pace. Human nature, however, stays pretty much the same. There’s a joke that illustrates this point. It goes something like this:

A time traveler from the 1950s shows up in 2017. He meets a college kid who’s browsing the Web. The visitor asks the student what’s he’s doing.

“I’m surfing the Internet,” says the student.

The visitor looks impressed. “What’s the internet?” he asks.

“It’s a worldwide network of computers that holds the entire accumulated knowledge of the human race,” says the student.

“Wow!” says the visitor. “That’s amazing! What do you do with it?”

“I argue with strangers and look at pictures of cats,” says the student.

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You may or may not find that joke funny. Either way, it reveals why bullies see the online world as a place to harass and torment others. Some of the aggressor’s victims may include your own kids. There’s no need to feel helpless, however. Here are some ways to spot the signs of cyberbullying and stop it in its tracks.

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Know the Symptoms

A child suffering from cyberbullying will show warning signs such as the following:

  • Shyness or withdrawal from social activities.
  • Switching friends or peer groups for no obvious reason.
  • Changing eating habits.
  • Avoiding computer and/or phone use.
  • Skipping school.
  • Exhibiting poor academic behavior or performance.

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Of course, many factors can cause these problems, So it’s vital that you try to discover the exact cause of the issues. Here are some guidelines for getting your kid to open up:

  • Ask open-ended questions. Instead of saying, “Was your day at school okay?” you might say, “What happened at school today?”
  • Practice active listening. This means paying attention to body language and other cues such as tone of voice. This is important because, as many experts point out, people’s words never fully express what they’re trying to say. That’s why there’s no substitute for face-to-face interaction.
  • Tell a story. For example, let’s say you suspect cyberbullying but your kid refuses to talk. You might say something like, “You know, when I was your age, a bully made my life miserable for an entire year.” This may cause your child to share her own experiences.
  • Always persist but never overwhelm. Barraging your kids with questions will, in many cases, shut them up like a clam. So try dropping the subject for the time being then take it up later. That way, you might catch your child at a time when she’s willing to discuss what’s going on.

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Three Types of  Microaggressions

The concept of microaggression causes a great deal of heated debate. It’s possible that some concerns about this problem are overstated. Still, it’s helpful to know how these forms of bullying can express themselves, both in the virtual and the real world. So here’s a look at the three types of microaggression identified by researchers:

  1. Microassaults. These are explicit verbal or nonverbal cues meant to intimidate or degrade the victim.
  2. Microinsults. These are cues, often subtle ones, that demean the target through snubs or casual remarks.
  3. Microinvalidations. These are attempts to invalidate the victim’s thoughts, feelings, or opinions.

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By familiarizing yourself with microaggressions and the associated terminology, you’ll be better equipped to help your child in the event they are the target of cyberbullying.

Standing Up to Cyberbullying

Empowering your child is an especially helpful way of giving them the confidence to deal with bullies. Here are some ways to safeguard your child from cyberbullying while teaching her positive self-assertion skills:

  • Encourage your kid to report the bullying to school officials or other authorities. Remind her that doing so isn’t a sign of cowardice. Instead, it’s a way of showing resolve.
  • Tell your child that the bully’s tactics in no way reflect on her self-worth. Bullies have no interest in getting to know your kid. They seek only to assuage their insecurities by degrading others.
  • Remind your child that you love her without conditions and are always there to talk. This will help her to develop a sense of security and strong self-esteem, even in the face of cyberbullying.


Raising kids is never easy. But knowing how to spot the signs of cyberbullying is one way to tilt the odds in your family’s favor. So stay alert to what’s going on in your child’s life, both for her sake and for yours.

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