Because young people practically grow up online, it’s no surprise that bullying has extended to the Internet. In 2012, a global Microsoft study of more than 7,500 children found that 37 percent of those surveyed had experienced some form of meanness online. Online bullying might involve sending hurtful or threatening messages to a target’s phone or through an online game; disclosing secrets or private information; deliberately excluding a person from a group in a virtual world or on social media; breaking into a target’s phone or social media account; or pretending to befriend someone and then betraying that trust.
What parents can do to help prevent online bullying:
1. Pay attention
• Listen to kids. Ask them to talk about their lives. Sit with younger children while they play and explore online. Regularly ask tweens and teens to show you around—what websites they visit, where they hang out, who with, and how they talk to each other.
• Lead by example. Kids learn from what adults do. They notice how you react to stress and see if you treat others with kindness and respect—your family, friends, neighbors, even strangers.
• Watch for signs of online cruelty. Look for kids getting upset when online or texting, or for a reluctance to go to school. Watch, too, for kids being mean to others online. Make clear that they should never bully anyone.
• Ask your kids to report bullying to you. Promise unconditional support. Reassure them that you won’t curtail phone, gaming, or computer privileges because of others’ behavior.
2. Encourage empathy
Ask kids to put themselves in others’ shoes (those of bullies, too).
What parents can do if a child is involved in online bullying:
1. Get the full story. Listen carefully and take it seriously. It may not be simple: the child or teen may be the target of bullying, or may be bullying someone as well. Recognize, too, that kids may be reluctant to talk about it.
2. Together, make a plan. Ask what you can do to help, and make the kid’s answers the basis of the plan. Discuss what each of you will do.
For a kid being bullied online:
• Don’t blame the target of bullying (even if he or she started it). No one deserves to be bullied.
• Advise kids not to respond or retaliate. (Do save the material in case authorities need it.)
• Report bullying to the website or company where the abuse occurred. For example, contact Microsoft at microsoft.com/reportabuse.
• If you feel that your child is physically at risk, call the police at once.
For a kid bullying someone online:
• Try to understand the source of the bullying behavior. (But, don’t let excuses justify the behavior.)
• Be supportive. It’s the behavior, not the kid that is at the heart of the conflict.
• Discuss how the child or teen can make amends, like an apology or good deed for the person bullied.
3. In any case, get help. Find counselors or other experts, trained to deal with kids who have been bullied or have bullied others.
What parents can encourage kids to do to help stop online bullying:
1. Be kind. If a friend is being bullied spend time together, and be a good listener. Reassure the friend with supportive phone calls and texts.
2. Set a good example. Don’t forward mean messages, or use insults, even to defend a friend.
3. Block bullying. Don't reply to or even read text messages and online attacks. Block bullies or change your password. Check with the service—social network site, IM, mobile phone—to find out how.
4. Ask those who are bullying to stop—politely, though, and only if it feels safe to do so.
5. Tell others. Report what’s happening to a trusted adult like a parent, teacher, or coach, or to a counselor or other trained professional. Report the abuse to the website.
MORE: Go to the Microsoft Safety & Security Center for more information.