cybergirl55Can you guess what crisis is affecting 25 percent of our children today?

It’s not ebola or drug addiction. We can rule out measles and depression, because the answer is not a disease at all. The answer might come as a surprise to many, but cyberbullying is hurting one quarter of our children. Unfortunately, cyberbullying might actually be more prevalent than previous studies have shown.

In fact, recent data shows that the rates of cyberbullying have actually tripled within the last year! The newer study estimates that 87 percent of our youth have experienced or been affected by cyberbullying. This is devastating for parents to realize, because all the education and awareness about this issue is not making a huge difference for our tween and teen populations.

Tragic Consequences: Cyberbullying Matters

October is National Cyberbullying Prevention Month and provides the perfect opportunity to make sure we are helping our families to delete this trend.

Technology has allowed bullying to jump the playground fence and enter all aspects of a child’s life leaving no safe haven for a child to retreat. The problem with cyberbullying is the unlimited access bullies have to their targets over social media, cell phones, and other digital devices.

Cruel and harassing remarks are terrible in their own right, but often other peers join in and gang up on a victim by liking or sharing demeaning posts. This pile up mentality can isolate victims and lead to low self esteem and depression. Cyberbullying has been linked to  increasing a child’s risk for depression or thoughts of suicide.

Kids suffering from depression are more than 12 times as likely to attempt suicide, which is the third leading cause of death among teens. Thankfully, 80 percent of teens suffering from depression are able to make a full recovery. While this is great news, it is imperative that parents and educators learn ways to prevent cyber abuse from starting.

Eight Ways To Prevent Cyberbullying

Parents can play an important role in reducing cyberbullying rates and protecting our children. By teaching children how to use technology safely, we can reduce the risk of numerous threats lurking online. While the statistics and facts are bleak, parents can take a deep breathe and focus on combatting cyberbullying.

Listed below are eight practical tips to stop cyberbullying:

Help a child set up their privacy settings. It’s important for children and teens to understand how privacy can be compromised. Sites are constantly updating and making changes to the information shared on their profiles. Double check and make sure a child’s privacy protected and stress never to share passwords- even with best friends or love interests.

Encourage kids to only “friend” people they know in reality. Many cyberbullies create fake profiles to gain access to their victims. By limiting their online circles, our sons and daughters are eliminating the threat of “catfishing” and predators.

Follow your child online. Teens and tweens are notorious for balking at the idea of mom and dad being their friend online. However, it allows a chance to see what is happening in real time and also provides you a great opportunity to communicate in a less threatening environment.

Stress the importance of telling an adult if they notice or receive bullying messages online. Research has found that only one out of ten kids will seek help if they witness cyberbullying. It has also been found that bullying stops within ten seconds if an adult intervenes!

If there is a cyberbullying issue, open and read all messages together. Don’t allow your child to go through this alone. Document any negative messages in case you need to seek outside intervention.

Create a family contract for technology. Sit down as a group and discuss the house rules and what is expected, and the consequences. This will get everyone on the same page and help prevent future disagreements.

Teach social media etiquette when a child is young and add topics as a child ages. A good rule of thumb is to only send or share items that you would feel comfortable with grandma seeing! However, as children begin puberty you will want to include a sexting talk or address oversharing.

Remind children that things will get better! Adolescence is tough and sometimes children just need reassurance that things will improve. Be there to listen and help them understand that this will pass.

Contributor:  Amy Williams, a journalist and former social worker passionate about parenting and education.