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Pink Shirt Day: How to prevent kids from cyberbullying and help victims

Tips for parents and educators from Professor Roy Gillis

By Kaitlyn Balkovec  

February 28, 2018
 

Sad teenager checking phone sitting on the floor in the living room at home with a dark background.

Kids who are victims of cyberbullying often show signs of traditional bullying such as depression, anxiety, lowered self-esteem, a lower interest in activities or school, social isolation, and suicidal thoughts.

 

February 28 is Pink Shirt Day, an anti-bullying initiative that began in 2007 – thanks to an act of kindness in a small Nova Scotia town. After a grade 9 boy was bullied for wearing a pink shirt, a group of friends organized a high school protest by giving out pink shirts to all the boys in their school.

This year, Pink Shirt Day is targeting cyberbullying specifically. It’s encouraging students and people of all ages to think twice before posting something negative – and instead, use the internet to spread kindness.

School bullying no longer contained to school 

"No longer are students safe from school bullying when they get home. Cyberbullying goes on constantly, in all locations, anonymously, and lasts forever on the internet," says OISE Prof. Roy Gillis, whose research focuses on bullying and cyberbullying, including its impact and prevention.

"Cyberbullying is a complex phenomenon which needs to be better recognized and prevented by students, parents, teachers and school officials," he continued, noting resources are available for parents and educators to help prevent it from occurring.

He also said it's important for school safety plans to address cyberbullying, adding that many school boards now recognize that the bullying of students via social media is still the school's responsibility.


Important Tips

Learn how parents, teachers and educators can prevent cyberbullying and help victims with these tips from OISE Professor Roy Gillis.

1. What are some of the signs that a child that is being cyberbullied?

What are some of the signs that a child that is being cyberbullied?
 

  • They may exhibit signs of traditional bullying such as depression, anxiety, lowered self-esteem, a lower interest in activities or school, social isolation, and in the most extreme cases, even suicide or suicidal thoughts.
     
  • They may avoid discussions about their online activities.
     
  • They may appear unhappy, irritable, or distressed, particularly after using their computer or cell phone.
     
  • There may be a distinct change in how often they use their computer or cell phone.



Source: Prof. Roy Gillis, PREVNet

2. What are some ways in which parents can prevent cyberbullying?

What are some ways in which parents can prevent cyberbullying?

Children are often afraid to talk to parents about cyberbullying out of fear that their online activities will be restricted or that they will get into trouble. These simple tips can help parents foster an open dialogue with their children and in turn prevent cyberbullying from happening.
 

  • Keep the computer in a common area of the home.
     
  • Familiarize yourself with various social networking websites and apps, and ask your children to show you their profile pages.
     
  • Build trust with your children. Set time limits, explain your reasons for them, and discuss rules for online safety and internet use. Ask your children to contribute to establishing the rules so that they'll be more inclined to follow them.
     
  • Talk regularly and openly with your children about online issues so that they feel comfortable coming to you if anything is inappropriate, upsetting, or dangerous.

 


Source: Prof. Roy Gillis, Parents.com

3. What should parents do when their child is being cyberbullied?

What should parents do when their child is being cyberbullied?
 

  • Always be ready to listen to your child and be their advocate. Cyberbullying can quickly escalate and requires swift adult intervention.
     
  • Always keep a record of emails, chat room history, web postings or phone messages that you can take to your internet service provider or the police. 
     
  • Always report incidents of cyberbullying to your child’s school and to your internet service provider. School boards have codes of conduct that include cyberbullying.



Source: Prof. Roy Gillis, PREVNet

4. How can children prevent cyberbullying from happening to themselves or others?

How can children prevent cyberbullying from happening to themselves or others?

Cyberbullying can follow children into their home, making them feel isolated, confused, hurt, and scared in a place where they should feel safe. Here are some tips that parents can share with their children in order to help them protect themselves.
 

1. Keep your passwords private, even from your friends. If something unsafe happens, or if you think your password might be in someone else’s hands, change it.

2. Don’t make it easy for strangers to track you down. Learn about privacy settings on different social media sites and limit the amount of personal information that is available to others, including your name, the names of friends or family, your address, phone numbers and the name of your school.

3. Block the bully or anyone who is harassing you.

4. Don’t accept friend invites from strangers.

5. Trust your gut. If you don’t recognize the name of a sender, don’t open or answer the message.

6. Don’t forward cruel messages to others, or participate in online activity that makes fun of or bullies other people.

 


Source: Prof. Roy Gillis, Kids Help Phone

5. What steps can teachers take in the classroom in order to prevent or combat cyberbullying?

What steps can teachers take in the classroom in order to prevent or combat cyberbullying?
 

It can be difficult for teachers to mitigate cyberbullying in the classroom since it can occur anywhere and anytime a child has access to technology. However, taking action against bullying at school can help instill awareness in children so they are able to identify it outside of the classroom and seek help.
 

1. Establish a code of conduct. Involving students in developing a code of conduct with acceptable and unacceptable behaviour makes them more likely to follow it and enforce it elsewhere, such as with online interactions.

2. Intervene early and often. Stopping bullying the moment it occurs lets children know that the behaviour is unacceptable and will not be tolerated.

3. Choose groups for students. Organizing groups, activities, and seating arrangements promotes inclusivity and prevents bullies from sticking together.


PREVNet has developed a handbook for educators that includes guidelines for the intervention and prevention of bullying. Download it for free.



Source: Prof. Roy Gillis, PREVNet

6. What should a parent do if they find out their child has been cyberbullying others?

What should a parent do if they find out their child has been cyberbullying others?

It can be difficult to learn that your child is a victim of cyberbullying, but it can be just as disturbing to find out that your child is cyberbullying others. If it does happen, parents need to know how to deal with the situation so it doesn’t happen again.
 

1. Talk to your child about cyberbullying. Let your child know that you are aware of the cyberbullying, and explain that it is unacceptable.

2. Try and elicit empathy in them. Help them understand the consequences of their actions and talk to them about known cases that have led to tragic results.

3. Try to understand why they are cyberbullying. Are they angry about something at home? Are they trying to fit in? Have they been bullied and are trying to get revenge?

4. Talk to them about the seriousness of their actions. Let them know that their actions may be criminal, and ask them how they would feel if they were reported to the police or school authorities.

5. Monitor your child’s devices. Move the computer to a common area of the home and limit the time your child spends online.

6. Encourage an apology. This should only happen if the apology is sincere, otherwise it can increase a child’s anger or resentment.Find a solution. Make every effort to see things from all sides, and work towards a solution that will help your own child as well as the one they’ve hurt.

 

Source: Prof. Roy Gillis, Government of Canada

 

Other resources

Legal consequences of cyberbullying

Signs your child may be involved in cyberbullying

 

More on Professor Roy Gillis

 

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Professor Roy Gillis, also a researcher with Canadian anti-bullying organization PREVNet, focuses his work on identity-based bullying. This type of bullying targets aspects of a person’s identity and may include bias about appearance, race, culture, gender and gender expression, language, religion, socioeconomic status, disability and sexual orientation.

Identity-based bullying based on presumed sexual orientation is very common in schools, and reflects children and youth’s attempts to enforce gender role stereotypes and gender role conformity among their peers.