How to Prevent and Stop Cyber-Bullying

Written by Irene van der Zande, Kidpower Founder and Executive Director

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Bullying is bullying, whether in cyberspace or in person. The following eight steps are described in Kidpower’s bullying solutions book,  Bullying – What Adults Need to Know and Do to Keep Kids Safe.

1) Discuss what cyberbullying is and the harm it does with older children and teens

Ask kids who are actively using technology for communication what they already know about cyber-bullying. They usually have a lot of information and strong ideas.  Ask if this has ever happened to them or anyone they know. Make sure that the young people in your life know that:

  • Cyber-bullying means using computers, cell phones, and other technology to hurt, scare, or embarrass other people. Cyber-bullying gets people in serious trouble at school and also with the law. In a growing number of places, certain forms of cyber-bullying are illegal.
  • Being mean is being mean, no matter how you do it. Don’t ask if it’s funny. Ask if it will make someone unhappy.
  • Even if you think someone was mean to you, being mean back is not a safe way to handle the problem. Instead, get help from an adult you trust.
  • Have the courage to speak up if you notice anyone cyber-bullying. Say that this is wrong and that you are not going to keep it a secret.
  • Never post anything on the Internet or send something electronically that you don’t want the world to see.
  • If you get an upsetting message or see something that is attacking you: Do not reply. Do not delete. Save the message, print it if you can and get help from an adult you trust. If one adult does not help you, keep asking until you get the help you need.

2) Be clear about the rules for using technology

Tell your kids, “You have the right to be emotionally and physically safe online as well as everyone else. I also expect you to act safely and respectfully towards others in everything you say or do, including through use of technology. If you have a problem, I want to know.” The use of computers for anything except schoolwork should be a privilege, not a right. The use of mobile phones for anything except for emergencies and communication with parents should also be a privilege. These privileges should be lost if they are used for unsafe or hurtful purposes. You expect your children to stay in charge of what they say and do, to tell you about problems, and to get your agreement in advance about any changes. We recommend a written technology use contract that kids sign with their parents and that can be updated each year.

3) Stay aware of and involved with what your child is doing

Spend time with your children and teens so that you know what they are doing.  Explain that text messages, social media such as Facebook, email, chat groups, and use of computers is easily public to the world and insist that these activities be public to you as well. If you don’t understand exactly what your child is doing with technology, then have this young person teach you by leading the way and letting you be a co-pilot.  If you are busy with technology yourself, remember to stop what you are doing and pay attention to your kids! Otherwise, you can be sitting side by side, each looking at your own smart phones or computers, and  not notice what your child is seeing or writing.

4) Be careful about the use of personal information

Unless this is within a secure system of people who know each other, such as a school, do not allow your children to post personal information or photos in an on-line friend’s community, chat group,or anywhere else.

5) Give consequences if a child cyber-bullies

If your child cyber-bullies, have the child apologize and make amends. Figure out what actions the child took to create the problem, and coach the child through a practice of making safer choices instead. Often, loss of the privilege to use the technology involved for a specific period of time is the most appropriate consequence. In addition, have kids do something active such as write a letter of apology, do some research about the harm done by cyber-bullying and write a paper, or pick up trash.

6) Provide support if a child is cyber-bullied

The anonymous nature and widespread distribution of cyber-bullying can be devastating. If your child is facing cyber-bullying, give the child emotional support by saying, “I am so sorry this is happening to you and so proud of you for having the courage to tell me. This is not your fault and we are going to do what we can to make it stop.”  Ask for action to correct the problem from school authorities, your Internet provider or mobile phone company, the social media company such as Facebook, and, if necessary, the police.

7) Practice how to speak up to stop cyberbullying

After kids understand what cyber-bullying might look like, practice how to speak up. Identify possible negative reactions from the other person. Then, practice respectful, powerful responses to persist in setting the boundary.  Let youth make up their own story about the situation to use for the practice. Switch roles with them.

For example, a friend might say, “I can’t stand Roger. Look, I got a photo of him going to the bathroom on the field trip. Let’s see how many people we can send this to.”

One way to speak up could be: “That’s cyber-bullying. It’s wrong.”

A common negative reaction to this boundary is, “But you have to admit that it would be funny.”

An effective response might be, “Even though Roger is not my favorite person, I don’t think it is funny to embarrass people. Besides, it is illegal.”

8. Teach kids to get adult help anytime they see unsafe behavior on the Internet.

Young people can have a huge impact and be safer themselves if they know that any unsafe behavior on the Internet is an important time to get adult help.  One of our Kidpower Teens, “Laura”,  asked her mother for help because an online “friend” in a chat group was writing despairing comments about life not being worth living.  With her mother’s guidance, Laura told this girl that feeling this was was not safe and encouraged her to call the Suicide Prevention Hotline. The next day the girl wrote to Laura that she had talked to a counselor there for a very long time. Although she didn’t have clear answers yet, this girl was on the path to getting the kind of help she needed. See Suicide Prevention Success Story: The Opposite of Cyber-Bullying  http://www.kidpower.org/library/article/suicide-prevention-success-story/

Want to learn more about how to practice dealing with cyber-bullying and other safety problems? Kidpower can help! Sign up for our free enewsletter. Visit kidpower.org for our extensive free on-line Library, affordable publications including Safety Comics, workshops, and consultation services.

— Irene van der Zande is the Executive Director and Founder of Kidpower Teenpower Fullpower International, a global nonprofit dedicated to providing personal safety skills for all ages and abilities and child protection education since 1989.  Irene is the author of the  Kidpower Book for Caring Adults: Personal Safety, Self-Protection, Confidence, and Advocacy for Young People, which has a foreword by Gavin de Becker, best-selling author of The Gift of Fear and Protecting the Gift and puts Kidpower’s 24+ years of expertise at your fingertips. Her book, Bullying: What Adults Need to Know and Do to Keep Kids Safe, is used by many families, schools, and youth organizations for their own anti-bullying programs and activities. Kidpower’s Safety Comics series provide an entertaining and practical tool for parents to teach their children  core personal safety knowledge and skills to keep them safe from bullying, abuse, kidnapping, and other violence.


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About the Author

Irene van der Zande, Kidpower Founder and Executive Director
Kidpower Founder and Executive Irene van der Zande is a master at teaching safety through stories and practices and at inspiring others to do the same. Her child protection and personal safety expertise has been featured by USA Today, CNN, Today Moms, the LA Times, and The Wall Street Journal. Publications include: Bullying: What Adults Need to Know and Do to Keep Kids Safe, the Kidpower Safety Comics series, the Relationship Safety Skills Handbook for Teens and Adults, and The Kidpower Book for Caring Adults: Personal Safety, Self-Protection, Confidence, and Advocacy for Young People.
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