Is your teen a cyberbully?



Estimated Reading Time 3 Minutes

We do our best to teach our kids
of the potential dangers lurking in
cyberspace – sexual predators, scams,
identity theft – but a more common
threat is the way kids behave towards
one another. The taunts, teasing and
bullying that happens in cyberspace
can sometimes be more hurtful than
what’s said in the real world.

So, what do you do if your child
has been involved in a cyberbullying
incident where he or she is the
perpetrator rather than the target?
Here are some expert tips:

Get the whole story

Often parents can’t imagine their
child as the bully, even when faced
with concrete evidence such as
transcripts of an online conversation.
“You’re not doing your child any
favours by automatically presuming
your child’s innocent,” says Jennifer
Kolari, a Toronto-based child and
family therapist and author of You’re
Ruining My Life! Surviving the Teenage
Years with Connected Parenting. Rather,
it’s important to get to the bottom
of why they engaged in a particular
behaviour. Jennifer says sometimes
kids don’t even know what they’re
doing is wrong. “Ask your kid if what
they wrote online is something they
would feel comfortable saying in front
of the entire school. Often the answer
is ‘no’, and this makes them rethink
their behaviour.”

Keep your cool

“Telling them to never do that again
or screaming at them over how
embarrassed you are is not going to
help,” says Jennifer. Be empathic – sit
down with them and talk about the
incident. “Show them compassion.
Say ‘Hey, what’s going on here?’ and
allow them to explore their feelings
so they will open up to you about
why they did what they did.” Jennifer
says it’s a good thing if they cry about
the situation – it shows they are
remorseful. “Once they’ve realized
their mistake, you can then ask your
child, ‘What can you do to fix it?’”

Set house rules

Limit the amount of time your child
uses the Internet. The Canadian
Paediatric Society recommends
kids between the ages of five and
17 should have no more than two
hours of recreational screen time per
day (including television and video
games.) Computers should also be
kept out of bedrooms and only used
in common areas where you can walk
by and look over your child’s shoulder
to see what they’re doing. “This isn’t
about you reading their diary,” says
Merlyn Horton, Executive Director
of the mission-based Safe OnLine
Outreach Society. “It’s about you
making sure your kids are not doing
anything life threatening or morally
threatening.”

Check your own behaviour

Are you watching television and
saying stuff like, “Look at what an
idiot that guy is!” or “How could that
girl be so stupid?” Kids pick up on
these behaviours of mocking others
and may emulate what they hear you
saying in their online dialogue.

Stay up to date

Trends in social media change quickly
and it can be hard for parents to keep
track of the latest and hottest social
networking sites. But keeping up is
a must, for your children’s safety.
This doesn’t mean having to be on
these sites constantly, but do have a
general awareness of what your kids
are up to online and what they’re
using a particular site for. If you
feel overwhelmed, Merlyn suggests
enlisting a family member or close
friend who’s between the ages of you
and your child. The “cool” aunt or
older cousin could act as a role model
for proper online behaviour.

Staying safe online

MediaSmarts, a
Canadian not-forprofit
centre for
digital and media
literacy, explains
how teens
should handle a
cyberbully:

  • Stop: leave the area
    or stop the activity
    (i.e. chat room,
    online game, instant
    messaging or social
    networking site).
  • Block the sender’s
    messages.
    Never reply
    to harassing messages. 
  • Talk to an adult. If
    the bullying includes
    physical threats, tell
    the police as well. 
  • Save any harassing
    messages and forward
    them to the email
    service provider.
    Most
    service providers
    have Appropriate
    Use Policies that
    restrict users from
    harassing others over
    the Internet – and that
    includes kids.

Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, April 2013.

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