Students may go on holiday break, but cyberbullying won’t (and how to handle it)

Millions of students around the country will soon be on holiday break. While they may get away from some of the bullying on school grounds, it won’t be the end of bullying. Over the holiday break, cyberbullying will kick into high gear. With most kids having access to platforms where cyberbullying can take place and others getting new electronic devices as gifts this season, it is an issue that should be on parents’ minds.

“Parents must know about cyberbullying so they can help protect it and end it when it happens,” said Kirk Smalley, co-founder of Stand for the Silent. “It is an issue that we all need to know about because we are just about all online at one point or another.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one-in-six high school students report having been cyberbullied. Those in middle school tend to experience the highest amounts of cyberbullying, followed by those in high school. They note that 33 percent of middle school students have been cyberbullied. While elementary students do not experience it nearly as much, 5 percent still report having been cyberbullied. It is an issue and concern that stretches across all academic years.

Add to that the results of a study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal that says social media can affect adolescents’ self-view and interpersonal relationships. They report that this is because there is a comparison and negative interaction that takes place, including cyberbullying. Plus, they say that social media normalizes and even promotes self-harm and suicidality among youth.

Knowing the dangers and realities of cyberbullying is the first step for parents. The next is learning how to identify it taking place and what to do about it. Most adolescents are not going to tell their parents they are being cyberbullied, so parents must pay attention to the signs they may be displaying. Cyberbullying happens in an online format (i.e., social media, texting, etc.) and can include threats, rumors, accusations, embarrassing posts, false posts, etc.

Some of the signs that may point to a child being cyberbullied include:

  • Pulling away from using technology when they used to like it.
  • Being secretive about being online or on their phone.
  • Quickly turning a screen off when a parent enters the room.
  • Behaving nervously when using technology.
  • Begins avoiding usual behaviors that they typically enjoy.
  • Being upset or mad after using their phone.
  • Withdrawing from their family or friends.
  • Deleting their social media accounts or creating new ones.
  • Noticeable changes in their mood or having difficulty sleeping.

Parents who suspect that there may be cyberbullying taking place will want to start by creating a safe space for their child. Their child needs to know that they are not being judged, that they are not at fault for someone’s cyberbullying and that they can discuss the issue with you. It is also recommended to record all details and save them because they may be needed later. Report all cyberbullying to social media outlets and speak with the other parents and schools about the issue. Threats of violence should also be reported to the police.

“We have to get this issue under control, especially with more electronics in the hands of our youth,” adds Smalley. “This takes a community effort, and parents take the issue seriously. We have helped many communities take this issue on, and we have no plans of stopping.”

Smalley and his wife, Laura, started the organization following their 11-year-old son, ending his own life due to bullying. They turned their pain and loss into a mission of helping others. Smalley travels the country giving presentations about bullying to schools, providing bullying prevention, giving out scholarships, offering intervention strategies and more. Those interested in getting involved can start a chapter of the group in their area, obtain a free K-2 bullying prevention curriculum  or cyberbullying handbook for parents, host a presentation at their school, and donate to help support the cause. To get more information, visit the site at: https://standforthesilent.org/

About Stand for the Silent
Started in 2010, Stand for the Silent is an organization on a mission to help eliminate bullying nationwide. Kirk and Laura Smalley founded the group after their child took his own life due to bullying. They offer free resources for parents and educators and travel to schools to host presentations. They have been to more than 6,112 schools and spoken with more than 4.6 million students. To get more information, visit the site at: https://standforthesilent.org/.