Would You Know If Your Kids Are Being Bullied Online?
No parent wants to learn that their child is being bullied — but not finding out can be even worse. This was the tragic reality for the family of a Florida teen who took her own life after being cyberbullied by a group of so-called friends that used a group chat to exclude her, talk behind her back, and reveal her deepest secrets [*].
As digital devices become commonplace for kids and teens, children are exposed to cyberbullying at younger ages and in greater amounts than ever before. According to the Cyberbullying Research Center [*]:
Nearly half of all teens aged 13-17 have been victims of cyberbullying as of 2021.
In this guide, we’ll describe how cyberbullying happens, review warning signs that may indicate your child is being bullied, and explain how parents can help prevent this type of behavior — so that you can protect your children and loved ones online.
What Is Cyberbullying? How To Tell If Your Child Is a Victim
Cyberbullying is a type of bullying that takes place in the online world and across digital devices. Cyberbullies target their victims via text messages, social media platforms, and online games with numerous bullying tactics— such as online harassment, harmful rumors, physical threats, and leaking of private information and photos.
According to StopBullying.gov, the effects of cyberbullying and traditional bullying on victims include behavioral changes, health issues, and academic challenges [*]. The vast majority of victims report feelings of sadness, hopelessness, and powerlessness — which can lead to low self-esteem, mental health issues, and self-harm [*].
To make matters worse, many young people suffer in silence because they fear retaliation, and experience feelings of humiliation and isolation.
That's why it's vital for parents and guardians to spot the warning signs of cyberbullying as early as possible.
Here are some red flags to look out for:
- Sudden changes to your child’s device usage. Many cyberbullying victims either avoid going online or spend more time on online activities — reading comments or trying to find out who is bullying them.
- Anger, frustration, or anxiety when going online. Look for changes in your children's online behavior or how they act immediately after being online. Listen and watch for signs of irritation, such as slamming down or throwing electronic devices.
- Deleting social media accounts or opening new ones. Bullying can force victims to change the sites and apps they use and alter how they present themselves online. Victims may close accounts altogether, or start new ones with fake names that hide their identity.
- Spending more time alone than usual. Bullying causes victims to feel isolated and alone. If your child seems more withdrawn and less social than usual, bullying may be a factor.
- Unexpected mood swings, outbursts, or signs of depression. Bullying can put great pressure on victims and have serious effects on their mental health. This can take the form of sudden mood changes and bouts of depression.
- Difficulty with sleeping and concentrating. Cyberbullying leads to anxiety and depression, both of which can cause sleep and concentration issues [*].
- Health problems. Bullying causes stress, anxiety, and lack of appetite — which can have physical effects in the form of stomach aches, nausea, and headaches. Your child may also use health issues as an excuse to get out of going to school and other social events.
The bottom line: Cyberbullying can have lasting and damaging effects on your children. It’s important that you recognize the signs of cyberbullying and deal with it quickly.
How To Help Prevent Cyberbullying and Protect Your Children
Cyberbullying can have a major impact on your child's well-being. Use these preventative measures to stop online bullying and limit its effects.
1. Teach your children about the “3 R’s” of bullying prevention
Cyberbullies often rely on the anonymity of online platforms to harass victims without repercussions. They thrive on this freedom and the attention they get from their victims. Your child can neutralize a bully’s self-perceived power by following these three R's of bullying prevention [*]:
- Recognize: Talk to your child about the difference between cyberbullying, “joking around” with friends online, and other typical conflicts. Help them understand when someone has crossed the line and ventured into more serious territory.
- Respond/Refuse: It's important to respond to bullies and not just stand by or turn the other way. Teach your children not to participate in or condone bullying behavior in any way.
- Report: Make sure your children know how and where to report bullying, beginning with parents and educators. From there, reporting can escalate to other school officials or law enforcement, if needed.
💡 Related: Internet Safety Tips For Kids and Teens →
2. Help your kids update their privacy settings on social media
Nearly half of internet users aged 10-12 already use social media [*]. While these platforms play important roles in the lives of many children, social media also comes with some major privacy risks. By adjusting privacy settings and laying out usage ground rules, parents can better manage their kids' social media community and interactions.
Here’s how to change the privacy settings on some of the most popular social media platforms for kids and teens:
- Be sure to set your child's account to private, so that any unknown friend requests can be approved or denied. You can also restrict content to “followers only.”
- Enable all Digital well-being features to control your child’s screen time, content, etc.
- Explore other TikTok parental controls.
- Set your kids’ accounts to private, so that only people they approve (with your permission) can view or interact with their content.
- You can check all of Instagram's privacy settings here.
- Change your children’s settings to private, which will limit who can see their snaps to only people that your kids know and follow. The same goes for people who can send them snaps.
- Ensure that you block and report inappropriate content or people who interact with your child. You can also read all of Snapchat’s community guidelines to help you understand the type of content that’s allowed.
- You can check all of Snapchat’s privacy settings here.
3. Make sure your kids are using strong passwords
Strong and complex passwords can stop bullies from accessing and misusing your child's online accounts. Parents should help kids create stronger passwords that avoid readily-available information, such as birthdays and names.
A National Institute of Standards and Technology study found that children tend to share passwords to build friendships and trust [*], so emphasize the necessity of password privacy with your kids.
- Teach strong password-building strategies. Avoid password mistakes, such as using personal information, common phrases, and single words. Instead, combine words — and mix in symbols and numbers to create alternate spellings.
- Monitor for password breaches. Check for password leaks and breaches from time to time. Use Aura's free leaked password scanner to check your child's email address and see if any passwords have been revealed.
- Use a password manager. A password manager can help you keep track of multiple passwords without having to remember them. Aura's password manager also monitors your passwords and alerts you of any breaches or leaks.
💡 Related: How To Remember Passwords (and Secure Your Accounts) →
4. Use Safe Gaming tools to block cyberbullies on gaming platforms
Nearly half of children aged 8-18 play a mobile or console game every day, and average daily play times exceed 1.5 hours [*].
While gaming, children can experience many types of bullying — including persistent trolling, harassment, and gameplay sabotaging or "griefing." For parents who can't personally monitor their child's gaming, Safe Gaming tools can help.
- Use a digital parental control service. Aura's parental controls allow you to set gaming limits and restrictions. Aura also monitors voice and text messages from over 200 games on Windows PC, alerting you to any threats or cyberbullying messages sent or received.
- Manage console security and parental controls. Console setting menus let you enable communication and content filters. You can limit game time and ratings, manage friend requests, and restrict online communication. To find out how to do this, read Aura’s guide to online gaming safety.
- Set up account notifications. Certain online gaming platforms send you notifications whenever your child receives a direct message. You may also be able to see in-game messages or block them altogether.
5. Monitor and manage your kids’ internet usage
You can only protect your children if you know when they use the internet and what they use it for. Since most parents can't possibly look over their kid's shoulder and watch everything, it's important to take whatever shortcuts are available.
- “Friend” or follow your kids on social media. As a friend or follower, you can see what your children post on social media. You'll get notifications whenever they post something new, so you can review posts and discuss them with your child if necessary.
- Set online and game boundaries. If you think limiting your children's online usage will help keep them safe, consider setting a time limit. Browser family controls, like Google's Family Link [*], let you block certain sites and functionalities. For gaming, try researching games together and choose one that you're all comfortable with.
- Get a family protection plan. An identity theft protection plan like Aura's enables you to monitor your kids' internet usage, block harmful sites and apps, and limit their screen time. The service also provides social media tracking, antivirus protection, and Safe Browsing tools.
💡 Related: How To See What My Kid Is Doing Online →
6. Organize a monthly “social media audit”
With social media usage among young people skyrocketing, social media safety has become a hot topic for many families.
According to a Pew Research Center study, 35% of teens say that they're on social media "almost constantly" [*]. You can't watch your child's every move online, but you might consider a regular social media audit.
- Discuss objectionable content. Go over your kids’ social media activities with them. Look for any posts that might be considered bullying behavior, and remove and report abuses.
- Watch histories. What your children do on social media can tell you a lot about their lives. Check out their online browser history. You can see YouTube history in My Google Activity. You can even order a TikTok history from its settings and privacy screen [*].
- Review friend lists and privacy settings. Ensure that your children’s privacy settings haven't been changed. You might also go through their friend lists to see who has access to their posted content.
- Block and report. Show your kids how to use the block and report features on social media. Review with them what information is needed to report abusers and how to capture it properly.
💡 Related: Is Fortnite Safe For Kids? What Parents Need To Know →
7. Talk to your kids about online privacy
Without online privacy, your kid's internet safety may be in jeopardy. Nearly 18% of cyberbullying cases involved a bully pretending to be their victim online [*].
While cyberbullying occurs at all ages, it's worse for adolescents and young adults [*]. Even though apps like Snapchat give the illusion of privacy, kids need to stay vigilant in protecting their information.
- Practice good cyber hygiene. Discussing cyber hygiene with your kids will help them avoid costly missteps online. Teach them to update their passwords regularly, and make sure they know how to spot scams. You might also talk with them about the latest online threats so that your family can stay ahead of the curve.
- Let them know what information they cannot share. Social media posts can prove dangerous because even seemingly innocuous details can be used against you. Cyberbullies use personal information to abuse their victims and misuse their accounts. Educate children on the consequences of sharing home addresses, passwords, Social Security numbers (SSNs), and banking information.
- Disable location sharing. To make sure onlookers won't know your location, turn off location-sharing permissions on your social media accounts and devices. You might also monitor your children's accounts to ensure that they don't geo-tag their photos or have others sharing their locations.
💡 Related: Online Gaming Risks: Are Your Children Susceptible? →
8. Monitor the apps and sites that your children use
When it comes to your kids’ internet safety, ignorance is anything but bliss. If you don't know about the apps and sites they use on their cell phones and digital devices, you can't protect them. For example, much of Discord's safety risks result from the platform sliding under the radar of parents and schools.
- Know what's popular. Research the sites and apps that your kids use, and find out what risks accompany each one. Learn what content moderation and privacy controls are available, and try to find safer alternatives if possible.
- Stay educated about trends and slang. Certain forms of cyberbullying may seem innocent to parents if they don't stay informed. For example, bullies may use slang to camouflage abusive comments. They might also use peer pressure to force victims to take part in dangerous social media trends [*].
9. Maintain open lines of communication
Talking about cyberbullying is not easy. Sadly, just 11% of bullied teens tell their parents [*]. This means it’s up to you to create a safe space to talk about bullying so that your children feel comfortable saying they’ve been targeted.
- Talk early and often. Give kids regular opportunities to talk, and you'll improve the chances of their mentioning cyberbullying if it does happen.
- Try different strategies. Talk about your own experiences with bullying, or bring up the topic by using a general or second-hand approach.
- Listen and remain open-minded. Let your kids speak freely and without interruption. Putting up any obstacles might give them a reason to stay silent.
- Engage with them. Playing with your kids and doing the things they want to do increases your chances of seeing bullying behavior in action. It also helps your child relate to you more easily, and creates more opportunities to talk and share.
💡 Related: Is Minecraft Safe For Kids? What Parents Need To Know →
How (and Where) To Report Cyberbullies
If you notice the warning signs of bullying or your child has told about an incident, you want to act quickly to handle the problem.
Before you start the reporting process laid out below, assure that your children know they did the right thing by talking to a trusted adult. Make sure your kids feel safe, and then take the following steps.
- Gather your evidence before blocking. While your initial reaction may be to lash out at or block bullies, make sure you don’t give them a chance to cover their tracks. Instead, collect screenshots of conversations, images, videos, and anything else that corroborates your child’s story.
- Block the bully and report their account to the platform. You can block the bully on each individual social networking site. Platforms like Facebook allow for temporary blocks and profile limitations — these are called "breaks" [*].
- Report the bully online. You can report abusive content on some social media sites, including Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat. You can also report abuse to your internet service provider if a bully violates the provider’s terms and conditions.
- Report the bully in person. After that, it's time to report the bully in person at your child's school or the bully's school. You might report the bully to a teacher, a school official, or a school administrator.
- If necessary, contact your local police. Consider reporting bullying to law enforcement if it involves threats of violence, unlawful invasion of privacy, and/or hate crimes. File a police report and keep records.
💡 Related: Aura vs. Bark – How To Choose the Right Parental Control App For You →
8 Ways To Keep Your Entire Family Safe Online
Cyberbullies are among the main threats that your family faces online. Bullies use various tactics to taunt their victims, and can do significant damage to your child's online experience, health, and reputation. Take the following steps to protect your family online.
- Use complex passwords and 2FA. Your passwords are the first — and sometimes only — line of defense against hackers and malicious cyberbullies. Make sure everyone in your family is using strong passwords and enabling two-factor authentication (2FA) whenever possible. For added security, use a password manager to safely store credentials.
- Keep personal information private. Be cautious of sharing too much information online — including on social media profiles. Anything you post online can be found and potentially used against you and your family.
- Secure your Wi-Fi network. Hackers know how easy it is to hack Wi-Fi networks. Make sure you’ve secured your network by changing the default password and disabling the administrator mode. To be extra cautious, you could even use a virtual private network (VPN) while at home. (And always use a VPN when accessing the internet in public venues such as cafes, malls, hotels, and airports.)
- Stick to secure websites and games. Official app stores (like Apple, Google, or Steam) ensure that you’re not accidentally downloading virus-laden software.
- Ignore strange emails or texts. Scammers and bullies use fake messages to get you to click on links or engage with them. Teach your family members to never click on strange links — and to report such emails rather than respond to them.
- Back up important data. Hacking and bullying can lead to data loss if you’re not careful. Keeping backups ensures that you’ll always have a copy of your data, should the worst happen.
- Consider using Aura’s family safety app. Aura’s all-in-one digital security solution keeps your entire family safe. With Aura, you get award-winning parental controls and Safe Gaming features, as well as identity theft protection, credit monitoring, AI-powered digital security tools, U.S.-based 24/7 support, and up to $5 million in identity theft insurance coverage.
The Bottom Line: Don’t Let Cyberbullies Win
Cyberbullying isn't confined to the digital world. It has real-life consequences that follow children wherever they go. This growing threat can happen to anyone, so it's crucial that parents know how to spot and stop cyberbullying before it’s too late.
The best way to protect your family from cyberbullies, predators, and scammers is to get help from the experts. Aura offers award-winning parental controls, Safe Gaming tools, and digital security add-ons, along with 24/7 support from industry specialists to stop cyberbullies in their tracks.