How to Respond When Your Child Has Been Cyberbullied
Give Your Child a Hug
This is the time to remind your child how much you care. Promise not to make the matter worse. Tell them that they are wonderful and a great kid. Make it clear that the cyberbully is not the “boss of them.” Try to take the sting out of the attacks and the mean words used by the cyberbullies.
Only after your child has calmed down do you move to the next step. You may have to “take 5” to keep your head and not show how upset you are. Your child, not retribution, has to be your only thought. There’s time for that later, if you decide to go there.
Talk to Your Child
Once they have settled down (and you have too), caution them about responding “in kind.” This is not a time for them to lash out or start a cyberwar themselves. Teach them to Take 5 (our StopCyberbullying Toolkit has lots of “Take 5!” resources).
See if they think they know the identity of the cyberbully or cyberbullies. See if this is related to an offline bullying situation and deal with that quickly. Just don’t confuse the vulgar language most kids use online with cyberbullying. It may be shocking to us, but unless it is shocking to your child, it’s not cyberbullying.
Assuming it isn’t a serious threat, you should Google your child and set up Google alerts on them. This will be your early warning system of any further posts or communications. You may also want to install monitoring software to track incoming and outgoing communications. This will collect whatever you need to help police track the real cyberbully.
Then you have several options:
A one time, seemingly unthreatening act, like a prank or mild teasing should probably be ignored. (If it’s a threat, you must report it.) At the same time, you may want to consider using some preventive measures:
Restrict the People Who can Send Your Kids Communications
Consider restricting all incoming communications to pre-approved senders, such as those on your child’s buddy list. (If the cyberbully is someone on their buddy list, though, this method won’t help. In that case the cyberbully will have to be removed from the buddy list and/or blocked. Just remember that sometimes others masquerade as another student, or others use their account without their permission. So you never really know who it is behind the screen name. For that, you’ll need to reach out offline to confirm.)
Restrict Others From Being Able to Add Your Child to Their Buddy List
Cyberbullies track when your child is online by using buddy lists and similar tracking programs. It will let them know when one of their “buddies” is online, when they are inactive and, in some cases, where they are. This is like adding a tracking device to your child’s online ankle, allowing their cyberbullies to find them more easily and target them more effectively. This feature is usually found in the privacy settings or parental controls of a communications program.
Block the Sender
Someone who seems aggressive, or makes your child uncomfortable and does not respond to verbal requests to stop or formal warnings should be blocked. This way, they will not be able to contact your child. You should note, though, that unless you restrict those who can communicate with your child (see above), the person you block can just change their screen name and get around the block.
Even if the communications are not particularly aggressive or threatening, if they are annoying, block the sender. (Most ISPs, gaming devices, text messaging, social networks and instant messaging programs have a blocking feature to allow you to prevent the sender from getting through.)
"Warn" the Sender
If the cyberbully uses another screen name to avoid the block, otherwise manages to get through or around the block or communicates through others, “warn” them or “notify” their service provider. (This is usually a button on the IM application or social networking profiles.) This creates a record of the incident for later review, and if the person is warned enough or have broken a serious rule of the network, they can lose their account. (Unfortunately, many cyberbullies use this same process as a weapon against their targets by starting “warning wars” or “notify wars” to harass their victims, by making it appear the victim is really the cyberbully. This is a method of cyberbullying by proxy, getting the ISP to be an unwitting accomplice of the cyberbullying.)
Report Them to the Service Provider
Most cyberbullying and harassment incidents violate the service provider’s or network’s terms of service. These are typically called a “TOS violation” (for a “terms of service” violation, and can have serious consequences for the account holder). Many service providers will close a cyberbully’s account (which will also close their parents’ household account in most cases. That really gets their attention!) You should report this to the sender’s ISP, not yours. Monitoring software, like Spectorsoft makes reporting cyberbullies to their ISP much easier as it will capture the IP address of the cyberbully.
If your child’s account has been hacked or their password compromised, or if someone is posing as your child, you should make a formal report to your ISP as well. You can call them or send an e-mail to their security department (NOT their terms of service reportline). But before changing your password, you should scan your computer for any hacking programs or spyware, such as a Trojan horse. If one is on your computer, the cyberbully may be able to access the new password. Most good anti-virus programs can find and remove a hacking program. All spyware applications can.
Report It to the School
Most cases of cyberbullying occur off school grounds and outside of school hours. In the United States, often the school has no legal authority to take action relating to an off-premises and off-hours activity, even if it has an impact on the welfare of their students. The laws are tricky, and vary jurisdiction by jurisdiction. So while you should notify the school (especially if your child suspects whom is behind the attacks or an offline attack is feared), they may not be able to take disciplinary action. They can keep any eye on the situation in school,however. And since many cyberbullying incidents are combined with offline bullying incidents, your child may be safer because of the report.
Also, while the school may have limited authority over disciplining the cyberbully, they can call the parents in and try and mediate the situation. They can also institute an educational and awareness program to help stop further cyberbullying by students, and to help educate parents about the problem. WiredSafety.org and its programs offer free downloadable powerpoint presentations, speakers’ notes and materials that can be used to deliver these programs.
If there is offline bullying as well, and the school fails to take preventive action to protect your child, they may find themselves liable.
Report It to the Police
Someone who threatens your child physically, who is posting details about you or your child’s offline contact information or instigating a cyberbullying-by-proxy campaign should be reported to the police. (Although you should err on the side of caution and report anything that worries you.) Using a monitoring program, such as Spectorsoft, can facilitate the investigation and any eventual prosecution by collecting and preserving electronic evidence. Print-outs, while helpful in explaining the situation, are generally not admissible evidence and cannot tell you who really sent the message.
If you feel like your child, you or someone you know is in danger, contact the police immediately and cut off contact with this person or user, staying offline if need be until you are otherwise instructed. Do not install any programs, or remove any programs or take other remedial action on your computer or communication device during this process. It may adversely affect the evidence, investigation and any eventual prosecution.
Take Legal Action
Many cases of cyberbullying are not criminal. They may come close to violating the law, but often do not cross the line. Most of the time, the threat of closing their accounts online is enough to make things stop. But sometimes, either because the cyberbully’s parents are in denial or because it isn’t stopping, lawyers need to be brought in. It may also be the only way you can find out who is behind the attacks, if no crime has occurred.
If you are serious about this (and never play the “lawyer card” unless you are willing to use it, this is not the time to call your local real estate, divorce or general practice lawyer) you’ll need someone expert in cyber-harassment cases and experienced with cyber-forensics. These lawyers can be pretty expensive and most of the time, you cannot sue the cyberbully (or their family) for the attorneys’ fees involved.
Think carefully before you decide to take this kind of action. Even if you win, in the end it may take you two or three years to get there and cost you tens of thousands of dollars. You may be angry enough to start it, but make sure that you have something more than anger to sustain the long months and years of litigation. And make sure your child is okay with it. It may often lead to further harassment and sympathy for the cyberbully and their family.