Knowledge is Power when Defeating Cyber Bullying


By Kate Roberts, Ph.D.

Cyber bullying is the use of technology to harass, hurt, embarrass, humiliate, and intimidate another person. Targets are the same students who are bullied in person; they are vulnerable, have difficulty reading social cues and they are often alone and socially isolated.

Cyber bullying occurs 24/7 via cell phones, instant messaging, mobile devices, and social networking websites. According to recent studies almost half of middle and high school students have experienced or witnessed cyber bullying (CRC, 2010; NCPC, 2007). With the social app snap chat content or images can be erased after 10 seconds, allowing students to send messages without even a trace of evidence. And snap chat is only one of many social media apps that offer an online audiences for bullies, who tear down helpless victims, many of whom don’t even know it’s happening.

Today’s parents are tech trailblazers and the first generation that’s had to contend with this level of cyber harassment. Parents can arm themselves and their children with knowledge when when protecting their children against cyber bullies. Here are some tips:

1. Have the “cyber bullying” conversation. Children don’t like to talk about bullying therefore parents shouldn’t  be surprised when they down play the conversation. The reason for this is they have likely bullied themselves, been bullied or been a bullying bystander and the talk brings up these memories and feelings of shame. Children may be afraid to lose tech privileges if they feel they are honest. Others don’t view cyber bullying as “real bullying” out of their own ignorance, more than defiance. Parents need to have an open conversation and respond without judgment as their children open up about what they know.

2. Explain how what you don’t know does hurt you. Some kids minimize or justify by saying, the “target child didn’t even know that was said, etc” Explain that it doesn’t matter. Use their life experiences to illustrate how badly they feel when people talk about them negatively. Explain the concept of empathy and how you expect them to act with empathy and that peer bullying is an opportunity for them to practice their empathy skills. Role play and give them scripts to work off of “That’s hurtful and if you are going to make fun of him, I’m leaving”, for example.

3.  Set cyber safety rules.

Whenever they interact online, remind your children that they never really know who is on the other end of cyber communication. It could be the person they think it is, but because they cannot see that person, they should always proceed with caution in their exchanges. With that in mind, enforce the guideline “Don’t do or say anything online that you wouldn’t do or say in person”.

4. Know what your children are doing online.

Set online safety rules and limiting time spent on tech, naturally minimizes access to and involvement with cyber bullying. Parent rules include: access to all passwords; frequently checking social media accounts, and websites visited; having social media apps used in common areas only, not in private; have an early cutoff time for social media use- 9pm for example.

5. Empowering Parents. If your child does not use social networking sites or other technology, but you are worried that he or she may be a target of cyber bullying, consider seeking

help from outside resources like your child’s peers, and your neighbors, and ask them to inform you of cyber bullying that may be occurring.  If you discover that your child is being cyber bullied:  Save the URLs of the location where the bullying occurred; document it by printing the e-mails or web pages, and know in advance who at the school is the administrator overseeing bullying.

Dr. Kate Roberts is a psychologist and parent coach on the North Shore. Questions can be directed to, or