Sameer Hinduja, co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Center, advises Tompkins County parents to “take a deep breath” and consider the appropriate response when their child is a victim of cyberbullying.
Sameer Hinduja, co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Center
Hinduja was the keynote speaker at the 2022 United in Kindness Symposium, “What to Do About Cyberbullying,” on January 27 sponsored by the Tompkins County Bullying Prevention Task Force.
“When your child is a target, stay calm, and make sure that they’re safe,” he said in a presentation titled “Addressing Cyberbullying and Unwise Social Media Use: The Role of Parents, Youth, and the Community.”
In cases of severe cyberbullying, he advised, parents should collect evidence, including taking screenshots of the offending behavior. Parents can contact their child’s school, but should be aware of constraints such as confidentiality rules and concerns about reputational liability.
“I know we want answers immediately, but give them time to do their investigation, to follow the rules,” he said. “They’re not going to be able to tell you how they discipline the aggressor after the investigation.”
Hinduja said that parents should resist any urge to vent about the bullying on social media. In severe cases, he added, parents can consider contacting the relevant social media platform or even the police.
Hinduja suggests options in which a bullied child can respond in empowering ways that promote agency, such as using the tools in social media apps to control who can see posts and who can comment on them. Kids can also be encouraged to memorize self-affirming phrases to keep in mind when they are feeling targeted.
WATCH: “Addressing Cyberbullying and Unwise Social Media Use: The Role of Parents, Youth, and the Community”
Research indicates that bullying is a problem that can seriously impact a child’s development, Hinduja said. He cited surveys where more than half of those who dealt with cyberbullying said it deeply affected their ability to learn and feel safe at school.
He cited a national survey of 9-12-year-olds where 51.7 percent of boys and 48 percent girls reported being bullied at school; and 14.8 percent of boys and 14.2 percent of girls reported being the targets of cyberbullying. Surveys of 13-17-year-olds indicated that cyberbullying is on the rise in that age group, with 16.7 percent reporting being a victim in 2016, 17.2 percent in 2019, and 23.2 percent in 2021.
Hinduja cautioned parents not to overreact if they discover that their child is being bullied “Many forms of bullying and cyberbullying are minor, they’re mild, they’re moderate, they’re not severe,” he said. “Most of it is mild name calling, insults, rumors, a mean-spirited comment, etc. We would want our children to understand that this is just part and parcel of life. You’re going to deal with it in the workforce with with co-workers.”
Hinduja advises parents not to get overwhelmed trying to learn about every digital platform their child may be using, but to stay focused on inculcating the family’s values for raising decent human beings with a moral compass.
When it comes to addressing a cyberbullying problem, he said, it is important for parents to know how to best communicate with their child and to foster resiliency and empathy in them.
For example, he cautioned against just telling a child to stay off a social media platform, or stay off their smart phone altogether. “That’s very dismissive,” he explained. “It trivializes what’s going on and it doesn’t help the problem. Youth move seamlessly from one realm to the other, offline, online. There’s no distinction, it’s just their life.”
Hinduja encourages parents to find ways to be involved in their child’s digital world in the way they may be fully involved in their offline lives. One example may be slowly engaging the child in non-judgmental discussions about social media use to learn about how they are living in that digital space for better and worse.
Hinduja stresses the importance of promoting resiliency and empathy in children, which can help young people put bullying behavior into perspective and lower the temperature of emotional responses. Children can learn to model resiliency through books and films, and he encourages parents to discuss the stories with them afterwards .
“For kids with the highest levels of resilience, when they were bullied it didn’t deeply affect them emotionally, it didn’t make them really struggle at school,” he said. “Whereas those with the lowest levels of resilience when they were bullied or cyberbullied, it wrecked them and they weren’t really able to function well at all in school. They struggled mightily when it comes to their emotions.”
Hinduja recommends that parents model good online and digital device behavior for their kids, and set up some household rules such as evening cut off times and linking phone use to school performance.
Task Force Co-Coordinator Bridgette Nugent said that the symposium was “an effort to not only bring awareness to the issue of bullying with a focus on cyberbullying but to hear from both national and local experts on strategies to put into practice whether you are a parent professional or a concerned community member.”
She cited a 2021 report indicating that 21 percent of Tompkins County middle school and high school students participating in a survey reported being bullied on school property and 21 percent reported being bullied bullied electronically via social media, texts, and emails. Only 37 percent of respondents reported that in general students treat each other with respect, she said.