7 Signs Your Teen May Be Bullied – in Cyberspace

You know the telltale signs if your child is the target of bullying in school – the torn clothing, missing or broken stationery or toys, the unexplained bruises and scratches. But how do you know your teen is safe when he or she is interacting with others in cyberspace or via text messages? Here are some red flags:

1.       Anxiety with incoming messages

Teens love to connect. Getting an email or text from their peers usually brings excitement. But if your teen gets nervous when an email arrives telling him someone has just commented on his Facebook post or jumps when his cellphone beeps with a text message, start paying attention.

2.       Avoidance or overuse of the computer

When flooded with flaming remarks or harassing messages, some teens avoid using the computer entirely while others obsessively stay online in a desperate attempt to clear up their reputation. Either behavior may signal something is going on.

3.       Reluctance to go to school

Your teen starts making excuses to stay home from school. Or you start getting calls from the school about her absence. This may indicate there are people she fears seeing.

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4.       Anger, nervousness, or sadness after using the computer 

If you see an unusual display of emotion during or after computer use, check in with your teen to find out if he was frustrated at the difficulty of the game he was playing, or if he was hurt by offensive remarks used by other players.

5.       Secrecy about online activity

Teens can be fiercely protective of their privacy and not let you near when they are chatting with their friends on instant messaging platforms. But if your teen does not even want to talk about whether she is going to go on Facebook or Tumblr when she turns on the computer, it could be a cause for concern.

6.       Withdrawal from regular activities

Your teen seems pre-occupied with thoughts when he is watching his favorite TV show. Or he refuses to participate in activities he used to love and no longer hangs out with his buddies. Social withdrawal, like school refusal,  often signals interpersonal difficulties.

7.       All-or-nothing language

If you hear your teen say, “Everyone hates me” or, “Nobody cares,” listen up and be curious. For reasons I will outline in another blog article, the online community is a powerful social force capable of polarizing attitudes, blowing an insensitive remark out of proportion, and causing grievous damage to one’s reputation. When gossip spreads like wild fire, a teen may feel alienated, rejected, and hurt. Feelings of worthlessness may result.

Remember, victims of cyberbullying are more likely than those of school bullying to remain silent because it is not often clear who is responsible for it. The social pressure against ratting out the perpetrator(s) is also stronger because the risk of gaining a poor reputation or losing an entire online community is real. Youth who have been keeping their virtual activity from the adults also do not know if adults will be sympathetic to their plight. And if your teen had fought hard to convince you to buy him the cellphone or computer, he is probably worried having his electronic privileges removed if he told you what has been happening.

It is very likely that if you don’t ask, they will never tell – until it’s too late.

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