BATON ROUGE, La. (BRPROUD) – There is an especially cruel form of harassment that targets young people, and according to some statistics, typically makes its young victims twice as likely to attempt suicide.

As many as 15 percent of the children who deal with this form of bullying prefer to keep the problem a secret and deal with it on their own.

But experts say it’s imperative that parents step in and protect their children by speaking openly about the issue.

As the title of this article suggests, cyberbullying is an increasing problem in the U.S. and young people in Louisiana are not immune.

According to a report from heartland.org, “15 percent of Louisiana high school students reported being cyberbullied.”

Defining cyberbullying

So, what exactly is cyberbullying? And what can parents do to protect young ones from its effects?

The United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF) defines cyberbullying as using any sort of digital technology (which can include social media, messaging platforms, gaming platforms, and mobile phones) to repeatedly harass a targeted individual with the goal of scaring, angering, or shaming them.

According to Additude Magazine, a bully who engages in this form of harassment might:

  • Use a cell phone to make repeated prank phone calls or send unwanted texts to the victim.
  • Post cruel comments to the victim’s social networking site, send them rude instant messages or emails. 
  • Create a fake social media profile to embarrass the victim.
  • Use a victim’s password to break into their account, change the settings, lock the victim out, and impersonate them.
  • Forward the victim’s private messages or photos to classmates and others. Sometimes the bully will trick the victim into revealing personal information for this purpose.
  • Forward or post embarrassing photos and/or videos of the victim.
  • Spread malicious rumors through text messages, social networking sites, or other public forums.
  • Gang up on or humiliate the victim in online virtual worlds or online games.

How parents can protect kids

According to the Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI), one of the best ways parents can protect their children from the impacts of cyberbullying is to encourage open communication on the subject.

How is this accomplished?

Three key ways to see this through include being approachable, setting clear boundaries on acceptable online behavior, and making the best of teachable moments.

Be approachable

From an early age, or as soon as possible, experts say parents should encourage kids to come to them with any questions about their relationships at school or in the online domain.

This is typically most successful when parents make a concerted effort to remain calm and reassuring no matter what surprising questions or experiences their children share with them.

Be clear about what kids can & cannot share online

And when young ones inevitably approach parents to ask for a personal phone or expanded internet access, FOSI suggests creating a “Declaration of Rights and Responsibilities,” which is a document that details what behaviors your child can engage in/display online as well as what sort of connections they’re allowed to make and accept online.

Take advantage of teachable moments

FOSI also advises opening the lines of communication by taking advantage of teachable moments.

It says, “When appropriate, discuss personal or national stories about cyber bullying, privacy, and other online risks with the whole family. Use these events as icebreakers for conversations about what is and isn’t okay online—and what you and your child can do during an unsafe situation. Ask how your child might respond to certain incidents, and invite feedback about how you can best help them with any issues online.”

In addition to opening the lines of communication, ADDitude also recommends teaching children the following guidelines regarding cyberbullying:

Never share passwords

It can be tempting to share passwords with friends, but the only individuals children should share their passwords with are their parents.

Don’t respond to bullies, just block them

Internet trolls and bullies want to evoke some sort of response. So, teach children not to give in.

Instead of responding to cyberbullies, teach tweens and teens to take a few calming deep breaths, step away from the device for a few minutes if necessary, and after calming down, use privacy settings to block the bully.

Spend more time IRL than online

Experts also suggest teaching children the value of taking a breather from social media and spending plenty of time with friends and family in real life.

This can be accomplished by establishing and reinforcing principles related to how much time your child is allowed to spend time online.

For example, a parent might establish a basic principle such as, “Dinner time and family game night are for IRL interactions only.”

This way, kids will know to put their phones on silent or leave them in their rooms during these times.

Limiting how much time kids spend online can be a protection, and doing so in a loving way that helps them understand why their screen time is limited might reduce the likelihood that they’ll try and break established guidelines.

Though cyberbullying is a persistent problem, parents can use the suggestions above to help prepare their kids for the possibility of being targeted and teach them how to thwart such attacks.

Click here for more on the subject of bullying, from the CDC.