Parents, it's time to attack cyberbullying

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Cyberbullying affected about 15 percent of high school students in the last year. It's so prevalent that the Centers for Disease Control calls it a public health issue. 

Occurring over email, text, or social media, cyberbullying is a form of aggression. It’s used to embarrass, humiliate, or cause psychological distress to a peer. 

Cyberbullying causes physical and behavioral health issues, such as depression, thoughts of suicide, and substance abuse. It even causes somatic symptoms, which are physical feelings of pain or fatigue without a physical cause. Victims and witnesses of bullying may experience feelings of trauma and have difficulty sleeping, abdominal pain, and frequent headaches.

Children who engage in bullying are also experiencing complex feelings.

"Often times the bullies are dealing with a myriad of troubles including low esteem, mental health concerns, or abuse," said Hollie Gonzalez, LMHC, NCC, CCM. "Addressing cyberbullying with compassion and treatment when necessary may promote healing and empathy, and hopefully result in a more positive uplifting cyber culture."

Your health plan offers coverage for mental health. Treatment can help strengthen confidence and give tools for dealing with stress, anxiety, and depression. Parents also have a role in reducing children’s chances of getting involved in bullying.

"We can’t shelter our kids from cyberspace and all that entails," Gonzalez said. "At some point in time they’re going to be impacted. I think it’s important to take a proactive stance in keeping the communication lines open with children and teens, incorporating these topics into routine conversation at an early age, emphasizing compassion, empathy, and doing the right thing."

Parents can collaboratively work with their teen to safely navigate the internet. Including children in conversations about internet rules can help increase their trust. Studies show this approach is effective to protect against cyberbullying. Implementing restrictions without their children’s input isn’t as successful.

Experts recommend that parents:

  • Set clear expectations for online behavior.
  • Discuss acceptable or unacceptable websites to visit and time limits.
  • Talk to teens how to treat others online.
  • Discuss anonymity and privacy online. Reinforce that your child should never share personal information (passwords, home address).

"Many kids (both victims and perpetrators) are reluctant to share cyberbullying experiences with parents due to shame, embarrassment, fear of consequences," Gonzalez said. "I think it’s important to encourage them to talk to someone–even if it’s not you. Most schools have peer groups, mentors, or anti-bullying campaigns. Since adolescents tend to accept information/support from peers more readily than from those recognized as authority figures, encouraging this type of positive peer pressure to encourage and uplift others can go a long way."

Teens are skilled at keeping digital activities private. This makes parental monitoring difficult. Also, parents underestimate the amount of time teens spend online and the number of negative interactions they have. But teens still look to parents for guidance.

"Don’t forget the impact of role-modeling," Gonzalez said.  Our kids may act like we’re the most out of touch people in the world. However studies show they are still looking to us to learn about life, relationships, communication, and values. How we talk to family and friends, use the internet, respond to text messaging–it’s all so important–and they are paying attention."

If you or your child has been bullied, tools are available to help at


Popular Articles