Bullying was once only the fear of school grounds, downtown, or baseball fields. No longer do the sights and sounds of home present the relief and comfort of the child returning to their dog, bedroom, and parents. Now bullying exists in our hands, on our desk tables, in our laps, and in our rec rooms while the family watches television. Once bullying was an out-of-sight act carried out behind the school or while the teacher turns his/her head for a moment; a covert act, for sure one that certainly made it hard to inform an adult because it was rarely seen or heard. As we know, a new design of bullying has emerged in our children’s lives. Cyberbullying, or social media bullying, is a form of bullying using social electronic technology including cellphones, laptops, and tablets. Cyberbullying is no more or less hurtful than the old push, shove, or threat. It is, however, more pervasive and intrusive and nearly impossible to elude. If it happens to your child then it is everywhere they want to be. Social media cyberbullying can include sending hurtful text messages, emails, posts, fake photos, videos, and websites.

“Social media is everywhere. Adolescents use social media as their main focus of communication; to not be involved in social media would be very rare for an adolescent. This universality of social media gives the power to bullies,” says Bart Mongiello, LCSW, Christian Health Care Center Director of Outpatient Mental Health Services, “It is happening right in your child’s hands.”

While innocent kids were bullied in the past, others may intervene or run and tell a teacher. There is no one on the internet and social media sites to act as a big brother or help put a stop to harmful messages and posts. Cyberbullying messages can be posted quickly and anonymously. Who do you tell or report to?

Addressing internet use, site use, and providing the confidence to kids to put down the device can be a start. Setting limits on the age of a child to own his/her first cellphone or the number of hours a day spent on social media is another preventative plan for parents. When a negative post or picture is seen by a child or adolescent, fear and shame often take over. Parents are often in the dark because their child won’t disclose their pain. Embarrassment and worry they will get into trouble often prevent a child from confiding in their parents.

Parents should ask about social media sites. Ask questions, be as much a part of the child’s internet involvement as possible. Set limits on sites and the amount of time a child is allowed to spend on the internet. Don’t overreact if you become concerned; you want your child to keep an open flow of information.

Christian Health Care Counseling Center offers individual, group, and family therapy for children, adolescents, adults, and seniors. For more information, call (201) 848-4463, email khockstein@chccnj.org, or visit ChristianHealthCare.org.