Cyber aggression vs. cyberbullying and how to keep your child safe

October 9, 2017 Providence Health Team

There might have been a time where your child perpetuated aggression online without even realizing it. Have they ever joined in on a negative conversation about someone else online? If so, then they may have been an accomplice to cyber-aggression.

“Cyber-aggression can be as simple as liking a negative comment on someone’s social media feed that you might not have realized was negative. To the person who is receiving the comments, your involvement may affect them on an emotional level,” says Robin Henderson, Psy.D. and Chief Executive of Behavioral Health Services at Providence Oregon.

According to Henderson, “The difference between the aggression and bullying is that cyber-aggression can be a one-off situation or remark that the perpetrator doesn’t necessarily know is wrong, whereas cyberbullying is a malicious and targeted approach where the perpetrator has an intent to harm the other person.”

We don’t know why someone would want to become a cyberbully, but Henderson chalks it up to culture. She says, “Kids parrot what adults do. When it comes to authority figures, they set the tone for how young people behave and act online. Take the divisive political atmosphere we have now. We have politicians who hold incredible power that are taking distinctive positions regarding issues like rape and gender differences, and for the most part, these stances are insensitive, tone-deaf and shared across multiple social and online platforms. It seems that we have a culture that tolerates bullying.”

“You may not realize it, but the effects of aggression and bullying can snowball and deeply impact the victim. Victims often end up experiencing symptoms of depression and suicidal behavior because their self-worth is questioned at a time when that self-worth is just developing. Authority figures, parents, teachers and adults alike should be aware of their behavior and how they talk about people. We need to be cognizant that words matter, and for the young mind, those words can be damaging.”

For most parents, sending our kids off into schools and social situations where bullying is prevalent is a scary thought. What’s worse is discovering that it’s your child that is perpetrating the bullying or aggression. Fortunately, there are solutions for dealing with cyberbullying as parents, and simple ways to tune your kids into the conversation. Here’s what you (and your kids) can do if you witness cyberbullying:

  • Talk to someone you trust. “For kids, this can be difficult as they don’t often share everything they should with their parents. But if cyberbullying is happening within a school, they should talk to a teacher and get them involved. As parents, as much as your kids protest your involvement, this is one time where you absolutely should bring the issue up with a school counselor,” says Henderson.
  • Use anonymity to your advantage. “The internet allows bullies to be protected. If someone is bullying your child online, encourage them to block that person or simply ignore them until they go away. Use the tools that you have, but don’t forget to involve their teacher,” suggests Henderson.
  • Have a parent-to-parent talk. She continues, “If you know someone who is stalking or bullying, it’s crucial to go to that child’s parents and tell them what is going on. Most parents will want to help, but if you’re met with resistance it might be time to go straight to the school.”
  • Be proactive. “I want to know my child isn’t being bullied and what they’re posting online. I share resources with my kids so they know independently how to handle a bully and how not to become one themselves.”
  • Offer help. “We recognize that some schools don’t have the resources to educate children as well as others about the dangers of cyberbullying. But as parents, we can step in. We can offer our help to create a safe environment that supports all children, not just the high performers. Teachers are on the front-lines of bullying, and they need all of the tools and assistance they can get,” says Henderson.

Creating an environment where shaming and bullying aren’t supported is challenging, but it can be done. Henderson says, “We are living in a different world where technology rules. We need to adapt and establish new behavioral rules for these platforms, but most importantly we need to set an example for our kids and our kid’s schools. By stopping bullying now, we are saving our children years of heartache and psychological damage.”

Lastly, Dr. Henderson recommends these helpful “quick tips” for parents to share with their children who are witnessing cyberbullying.

Three things kids can proactively do when they see someone is being bullied:

  1. Flood the zone with positive, supportive messages for the person being bullied.
  2. Report the bully to the site moderator.
  3. Don’t bully the bully – that just feeds the cycle.

If your child is a victim of bullying, speak to a mental health professional to discover more ways to help.

About the Author

The Providence Health Team brings together caregivers from diverse backgrounds to bring you clinically-sound, data-driven advice to help you live your happiest and healthiest selves.

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