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Teens and Cyberbullying: How to Protect Your Child and Champion Their Resilience

Teens and Cyberbullying: How to Protect Your Child and Champion Their Resilience

By Christine Rambert, Child and Adolescent Therapist at Valera Health

Not so long ago, if you were a teen-targeted by a bully, you probably fended for yourself. You knew to exercise caution in areas where you might be vulnerable, like the school bus or the cafeteria. Once the final bell of the day rang, the countdown to being safe at home could begin. Your parents may have been totally unaware of the situation and the stress you undoubtedly coped with.

Parents today are generally more attentive to their children’s sense of health and well-being at school. That means that they’re also motivated to protect their children from the negative, long-term effects of bullying. But when bullying happens online, the challenge of defending children from attack is formidable — as the bully is both invisible and always-present in their devices.

If you’ve discovered your child is being bullied online, there are steps you can take immediately. And instead of assuming your child will crumble under the weight of their cyberbullying experience, you can have great hope for them. Children who experience cyberbullying have a unique opportunity to learn self-respect and self-awareness — and those skills pay dividends well into adulthood. 



Signs of Cyberbullying

Some online conflicts are “normal.” You and your child should talk openly about the difference between normal conflict and cyberbullying — ideally before they begin using social media. Quarrels, debates, teasing, sarcasm, exclusion: These are things unpleasant to manage, but entirely normal.

Cyberbullying isn’t run-of-the-mill teen conflict. It’s repeated, deliberate, and persistent aggressive behavior targeted at an individual online. Social media, email, chat rooms, and messaging apps are the new school buses and cafeterias. Examples of cyberbullying include:

  • Harassment in the form of offensive, threatening, or abusive messages.

  • Spreading of false rumors

  • Constant monitoring of their location and activities by someone other than a parent

  • Name-calling including discriminatory or prejudiced content that targets a victim’s race, religion, gender, or other characteristics

  • Sharing of suggestive photos and comments that aim to shame, humiliate, threaten, or blackmail the victim

  • Encouraging self-injury/harm through impersonation, isolation, and intimidation

Cyberbullying is usually marked by a power imbalance (for instance, the bully may have more social capital). Sometimes, online comments lead to bystander involvement and physical violence.


Signs Your Child May Be a Victim of Cyberbullying 

The Pew Research Center reports that 46% of surveyed kids (ages 13-17) have been bullied online. This same report reveals that “harassed teens are also twice as likely as their peers who report no abuse to say parents have done a poor job of combatting online harassment and bullying.”

In other words, many cyberbullied kids feel their parents are failing to protect them. 

As a parent, you may feel alarmed by this news. If your child is keeping their cyberbullying experience a secret (and for many reasons, they might be), how are you to know, much less intervene?

The best strategy starts with being a keen observer of your child. If you’re noticing any of the following, a focused conversation about cyberbullying may be necessary:

  • Physical changes like sudden weight changes or physical symptoms of stress.
  • Emotional outbursts that seem out of character.
  • Change in online activity and a strained/tense relationship with technology.
  • Social isolation and withdrawal from friends and family.
  • Refuses to go to school

If you are having a difficult time initiating or managing an honest conversation with your child, it’s an ideal time to check in with yourself. Are you approaching the conversation with calmness and with a willingness to listen without judgment? Your child needs to feel completely safe with you in order to be honest about their cyberbullying experience. 

It’s wise to check in with your child’s teachers and the school counselor to see if they have noticed changes. The counselor may ask your child some of these questions to determine if cyberbullying is occurring:

  • Are there any mean or hurtful things that people have said to you online or through your phone?
  • Have you ever been embarrassed by something someone said or posted about you online?
  • Have you ever been threatened or intimidated by someone online?
  • Do you ever feel scared or unsafe when you're using your phone or computer?
  • Do you ever feel like you have to be careful about what you say or post online because you're afraid of what other people might think?

If your child answers yes to any of these questions, ask them to show you the messages or posts that they're being bothered by. You can also reassure them that they're not alone and that you’re there to help them.       


What To Do When Your Child is Being Cyberbullied

Your response to your child’s cyberbullying experience is critical. It’s only natural to feel angry and activated when you discover that your child has been harassed or threatened. Take a deep breath and center yourself — otherwise, you may make matters more complicated and upsetting for your child and yourself. 

When your child is being cyberbullied, the following tips can help protect their immediate health and safety:

  • Recognize and respect your child’s feelings about the situation. Take care not to minimize your child’s experience by telling them to pull themselves up by their bootstraps.
  • Refuse to go on the attack. Resist responding with anger, aggression, or hurtful comments toward the bully — and encourage your child to resist as well. Retaliation can escalate the situation and make things worse. Plus, anger and distress may be exactly what the bully is trying to create.
  • Guard your child’s trust. When you’ve earned your child’s trust, take care to keep it. Be thoughtful about who you share the situation with and what details you reveal.
  • Teach your child how to speak up for themselves. Now is a perfect opportunity to help your child set their own clear boundaries. Your child should firmly tell the cyberbully to stop by using non-confrontational language like, "I don't appreciate this. Please stop contacting me."
  • Contact the school or the police if the situation warrants it. Cyberbullying is serious, and in some cases (like stalking, sharing explicit content, or violation of privacy), it is a crime. If your child initially refuses to report the crimes against them, knowing their participation will help protect others could quickly change their minds.

You should also document the cyberbullying and ask your child to adjust their privacy settings and mute their notifications. If they can stay offline — at least temporarily — exposure to the bully and stress will be reduced. 


Connect Your Child to a Therapist Who Can Help Them Work Through the Effects of Cyberbullying

Being the victim of harassment and threats can be quite traumatizing, and your child will benefit from mental health support both during and after their cyberbullying experience. In fact, your child may be more open and receptive to learning about themselves than ever before.

If your child doesn’t have a therapist, check in with the school counselor. Ask what mental health resources are available to you and your child. If your school district has partnered with Care Solace, all you need to do is provide some basic information about your child and their therapy preferences — they’ll quickly help you find a provider.

Connecting your child with a Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) therapist can be a good choice. DBT combines elements of cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) with mindfulness techniques. It was developed to help individuals manage emotions, improve interpersonal relationships, and cope with distressing situations — like cyberbullying.

DBT operates with four core modules, each of which can empower a child who is or has experienced cyberbullying: 

  • Mindfulness increases teens’ awareness of emotions and physical reactions to negative emotions. Mindfulness practices like sandplay therapy and breath work are excellent tools for sharpening powers of discernment.
  • Distress tolerance strategies help teens deal with immediate distressing situations and avoid impulsive reactions. The TIPP techniques are easy to learn and practice.
  • Emotion regulation skills help teens understand, manage, and reduce emotional distress, preventing harmful reactions like aggression or self-harm caused by uncontrolled emotions, such as anger or deep sadness in response to situations like cyberbullying.
  • Interpersonal effectiveness helps teens assert themselves in interactions with peers, allowing them to say no when necessary. It also guides them in setting healthy boundaries online, maintaining self-respect, and nurturing important relationships. 

With practice, DBT techniques can profoundly change the way your child sees the world and themselves. DBT isn’t for everyone, of course. No matter which therapist your child chooses, encourage them to give it at least a few sessions (unless there is obvious misalignment). 

Therapy, like any other relationship, takes time to grow and be comfortable. 


Remember that Recovering From Cyberbullying Can Build Resilience in Your Child

As you move through this hardship with your child, offer yourself some grace. When your child is a victim, you may feel victimized, too. Consider talking to a mental health professional yourself so you can stay steady and model willingness to receive support.

You can help your child reframe a cyberbullying situation as a call to action. Now is the time for your child to stand up for themselves and develop strategies that will enable them to handle future challenges with resilience, grace, and optimism. And you can show your child you’ll be right there for them, no matter what challenges lie ahead.


Click here to watch the full webinar recording

You and your child don’t have to navigate cyberbullying alone. Care Solace partners with school districts to ensure students and their families have access to mental health resources 24/7/365, no matter your insurance situation. 

Blog Author Photo (8)


Christine Rambert

Child and Adolescent Therapist at Valera Health

Christine Rambert has 15 years of clinical experience providing psychotherapeutic services to culturally and age diverse populations, with specialization in child and adolescent therapy. Bilingual in Spanish, she is a SIFI certified supervisor, and has provided administrative management of clinic and school based mental health programs.  She has a particular interest in clinical education and training. Christine has extensive training in therapeutic modalities which include DBT, ACT and TF-CBT. She earned an MA in Sociology/Anthropology from Northeastern University and an MSW from NYU Silver School of Social Work. Christine is also a registered yoga teacher (RYT-200) with Yoga Alliance.

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