Healthy Kids YMCA Child Care

A practical guide to dealing with cyberbullies

A boy using an iPad while sitting at table.

The story of fifteen-year-old Amanda Todd, of British Columbia, serves as a tragic reminder of the potentially devastating impact of cyberbullying. After years of being stalked and harassed for years by an anonymous online tormentor and her peers, Todd tragically took her own life in October 2012.

The abuse that Todd endured was a product of today’s digital world, where bullying can occur 24/7 — and perpetrators, hiding behind screens, can be difficult to identify. It’s a problem with an alarming reach; according to the Canadian bullying prevention organization Prevnet, 1 in 3 kids report being a victim of cyberbullying.

The good news is that, with clear communication and a few helpful strategies, parents can help their kids overcome online harassment. Here are 5 practical tips for dealing with cyberbullies:

1. Ignore and block

One of the most powerful remedies for defeating online harassment is to ignore and block the perpetrator. Replying to trolls and cyberbullies lets them know that their attempts to gain attention were successful, which can give them a sense of achievement and exacerbate their behaviour.

2. Don’t retaliate

Along with ignoring online harassers, encourage your child to avoid retaliation. Seeking revenge and becoming what is known as a “bully-victim” may initially give kids a sense of relief and vindication, however, vengeance can cause them to dwell on the pain they’ve experienced and remain unhappy. Teach your child that the best way to handle a troll or bully is to end communication rather than retaliating.

3. Document attacks

Along with reporting harassment against your child to website administrators, keep your own record of incidents. Take screenshots of webpages and save abusive messages, because they can serve as evidence in a criminal case if you decide to pursue legal action against your child’s bully.

4. Be a compassionate listener

The psychological and emotional torture that cyberbullying victims endure can have deep and devastating effects. To lessen its impact, parents should practice being compassionate listeners. By doing so, children “feel felt” and are better able to work through their emotions so that they may come to terms with the bullying incident. After occurrences of online harassment, have a conversation with your child about what they’ve experienced — but remember to let them to do most of the talking and give them your undivided attention.

5. Unplug from technology with a “digital detox”

If your child is being bullied online, encourage them (and the entire family as a show of support) to partake in a digital detox. Unplugging from technology can help kids deal with the stress, anxiety, and loneliness that are commonly associated with victims of cyberbullying. Socializing with kids their age or participating in stress relieving activities, such as exercise, can help your child keep their mind off negative online experiences and bring joy back into their life.