What is cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying is using information and communication technologies to deliberately and repeatedly behave in a manner intended to harass, threaten, humiliate or harm others.
Though laws vary by state, cyberbullying behavior can rapidly tip over into criminal offenses and contacting law enforcement may be a needed step in stopping the behavior. Many tweens and teens have been shocked to discover their actions constitute a crime and that they will have to bear the full consequences within the legal system.
Physical threats of harm should be reported to police immediately. If physical threats have not been made, here are some things to consider as you prepare to create the best possible outcome for your child or teen.
Listen to your child
Victims of cyberbullying are in a vulnerable state, so how you respond to your child and your decision to report the incident to law enforcement are likely to be significant factors in either making the problem stop or worsening the situation.
Your first task is to listen to your child without judgment, blame, or attempting to jump in and ’solve’ it. Gently ask questions instead, such as:
How long has the cyberbullying been going on?
What are the names of those involved?
How have the cyberbullies bullied you, and what have they threatened?
If there is evidence of the cyberbullying—saved text messages, social media posts, website entries, etc.—have your child show these to you and keep them, should documentation be needed at a later time.
Encourage your child to tell the truth
You also need to ask your child to be entirely honest with you about any forms of retaliation they make have taken. Hopefully, they won't have anything to report, but often kids and teens lash out, and this significantly complicates matters. Let them know that the truth will come out when their cyberbully is confronted, and they will be in far worse shape if they haven’t been transparent about their behavior. If there is evidence of their actions, document these as well.
Acknowledge your child’s pain
Recognizing your child’s pain and letting them hear you affirm that what happened wasn’t fair or right is important validation. Being cyberbullied is alienating enough; do your best not to make your child feel any more isolated. Bullying hurts and that hurt is exhibited in many forms—anger, embarrassment, betrayal, frustration, confusion, fear, and reprisal. Help them see that bullies’ actions are not a result of a fault within your child; the responsibility lies with the bully.
Take precautions if your child has retaliated
If your child or teen retaliated with their own cyberbullying, you also need to include a full discussion about the inappropriateness of their behavior and what the consequences will be. The assertion that "the other kid started it" is irrelevant. Your child cannot blame their choices and behavior on anyone else and must be held accountable. If they want justice for what was done to them, they need to expect the same yardstick to be applied to any cyberbullying they committed.
Block and report cyberbullies to the service providers
Help your child take preventive measures online to block cyberbullies from contacting them, and report cyberbullies to the site or service providers where the cyberbullying occurred. Responsible sites should take immediate action against cyberbullying incidents.
Once you understand the scope of the problem, and how your child feels, assess what help your child may need.
Tips for Reporting Cyberbullying
By understanding the full story, you can now take the next step in protecting your child and preventing future attacks from happening to other children.
Be proactive in reporting cyberbullying
Don't wait to see if the cyberbullying goes away. Take immediate steps to address the issue. Your child needs to know that you can and will help them.
Report the cyberbullying to the school
If your child experienced cyberbullying, the chances are high that the negative fallout has spilled over into their school experience, even if the cyberbullying didn't occur while your child or their abuser(s) were on school grounds.
Research your state's cyberbullying laws
Ideally, you are already aware of your state's cyberbullying laws, but it's more likely that you haven't had a reason to familiarize yourself, until now. Don't worry; you can research online to find the laws, ask your child's school resource officer (the police person assigned to work in the school), or ask for info at your local law enforcement office. One excellent online resource is the National Conference of State Legislatures website's comparison of cyberbullying and cyberharassment laws, but you should also be able to find this on your state's website, or request this information by emailing one of your elected officials.
Request information from your local police department
When inquiring about cyberbullying laws, bear in mind that awareness of recent cyberbullying laws may not have trickled down to all officers and you may need to ask them to look this up. Then ask what steps are taken when cyberbullying is reported, how well other cyberbullying victims have been protected, and what steps are taken to ensure the cyberbullying doesn’t escalate.
How law enforcement should handle cyberbullying cases
Law enforcement officers should be very open and supportive in their answers, and you should feel free to ask the questions you need to determine whether you feel comfortable about reporting the incident. If your questions aren’t met with open understanding, or you believe your local law enforcement will not handle the issue well, step back and reconsider your options. The last thing a cyberbullying victim needs is for the problem to get worse.
Discuss the steps with your child
Discussing what you have learned about the laws and procedures with your child or teen is important because it helps you and your child keep a strong line of communication while you chart out the best course of action. Cyberbullying robs victims of their sense of control, but by including your child in the process of resolving the issue, you help them regain that control.
File an official report with the police
If reporting the incident to law enforcement is the best course of action, you can now move forward in reporting and documenting the event(s) following the guidelines you received from law enforcement officers in your previous conversation.
Steps to take after reporting a cyberbullying attack
After reporting or pressing charges against a cyberbully, you may want to help your child or teen increase the strength of their friendships to reduce the feeling of isolation victims often experience. Depending on how deeply the cyberbullying has impacted your child, you may also choose to set up appointments with the school’s counselor or ask the school’s counselor for names of therapists who have expertise in working through the effects of the cyberbullying.