Online bullying: A persistent problem
Bullying isn’t contained to the walls of your teen’s school. Since many students use social media to keep in touch with their classmates, you need to be mindful that they can feel pressure or harassment online, as well.
Online bullying can happen through social media, text messages, apps or even video games. It can include everything from making direct threats to doxxing someone (releasing personal information without permission) or even unwanted or malicious conduct.
Tips for handling online bullying
As a parent or guardian, you can help your teen protect themselves against online bullying, and be supportive if it happens to them, with these tips.
This list was created in conjunction with the International Bullying Prevention Association.
- Keep an open channel of dialogue about your teen’s experiences online. By building a sense of rapport and support ahead of time, you can help ensure that teens openly share when incidents occur. Don’t shrug it off when they come to you with a report about something they saw online.
- Know more about your teen's online activity. Make sure you know the apps and websites your teen is accessing.
- Use the tools available to you. Explore and take advantage of parental tools or settings on the sites your teen frequents.
- Build a sense of trust with your teen. Explain existing rules around internet usage and be open to their input. When young people feel they have input on the rules, they are more likely to respect and follow them.
- Don’t threaten to take away a teen's technology. Instead of threatening to take the technology away, have a conversation about the best ways to make use of it and how they can learn to put it away on their own.
- Don’t underreact to your teen being bullied. The effects of bullying on a young person can last a long time. It’s important to validate and take teens seriously when they come to you. Even if the problem seems small, to you. It’s important to have a calm and clear conversation with them, and not dismiss them.
- Encourage your teen to do what they love away from a screen. Music, sports and other hobbies are great ways to connect with friends and family IRL.
When your teen is the bully
Just as teens can be the target of online bullying, they can also be the ones bullying others. When this happens, it’s important to have those tough conversations about always treating others with kindness and respect.
Here are a few tips to help you talk with your teen about their bullying behavior:
- Prepare for a meaningful conversation: You likely will have judgments about what happened, especially if they have disappointed you with their behavior. However, it's important for you not to express those judgments. Find the right time and place and then have the conversation. Stay calm and keep the discussion focused on solutions.
- Open the conversation and be supportive: Your teen needs to feel safe to be open and honest with you. Don’t interrupt or criticize. Let them tell the full story. Let them know that you’ll work with them to fix the problem. Even if you feel disappointed in your teen’s behavior, avoid being judgmental. Let them know how serious the situation is.
- Find out what happened: Be a good listener, so you can learn as much as possible. Find out if this behavior is new for your teen or if there are past instances you don’t know about.
- Communicate values: Let your teen know that bullying behavior is unacceptable and that there will be consequences. Be firm and consistent.
- Explore solutions: Encourage your teen to apologize. Help them with either writing an apology or choosing the right words to say. If the bullying happened online, have your teen remove the related posts. If the bullying happened at school, consider going to your school’s authority, like the principal. Offer to work with the school on any consequences related to violations of school policy.
Bullying intervention skills
Here are some ways you can teach your teen to help stop online bullying. This list was created in conjunction with the International Bullying Prevention Association.
- Tell someone. Because online bullying can take place beyond the view of an authority figure, be sure to tell a trusted adult, so there’s a record of it occurring.
- Don’t retaliate. If you see bullying online, instead of trying to say something in return, turn off the messages or find ways to refrain from reading them.
- Store relevant information. Make sure to save any messages or comments to help identify the people involved and stop the bullying from continuing.
- Don’t be an accomplice. Don’t share or forward instances of bullying just for its own sake. This doesn’t help the situation and can spread the harm, instead of containing it.
- Be private while using the internet. Do not share private information, like your address or phone number, online.
- Use strong privacy settings. When using online apps and services, be sure to check your privacy settings, so your posts are only ever seen by your intended audience.
- Don’t click on any links from unknown people. Make sure any links you click on come from people you know and trust, like your friends or family.
Encourage healthy and kind behavior online
The best way for young people to foster healthy online communities is to act positively, and discourage negativity.
If your teen sees someone being harassed online, help them find a way they are comfortable with to offer support. They may share private or public messages, or a general statement urging people to be kind.
Your teen should also bring attention to any information being shared in their online community that may not be reputable or accurate. If they feel comfortable, they can - respectfully - correct the record.
By being kind and empathetic in their everyday online actions, young people can be a model for others in their online and offline communities.
To find out more, you can always ask your teen questions like:
- What do you do when you see someone being harassed online?
- What are some actions you can take to encourage people to be kind in your online communities?
- How would you respond if someone was sharing inaccurate information online accidentally?
- What if they didn’t back down, even after you showed them it wasn’t accurate?
Instagram has tools and resources to help you and your teen create an action plan to handle bullying. For example, you can:
- Make an account private: By default, Instagram accounts for teens under age 16 are set to private in the US. If your teen’s account is private, this means they can approve or deny follower requests, and only people they’ve approved as followers can see their posts. In the US, Instagram accounts for people over 16 start out as public, which means anyone can view their profile. This can easily be changed in Privacy settings.
- Control Your Profile’s Visibility
- Privacy Settings
- Help them control their DMs: Direct Messages (DMs) provide a way for community members to communicate privately. Depending on privacy settings, DMs can be sent and received from ”Everyone,’, Friends’ (creators that you follow, who also follow you back), or ‘No one’. Make sure their DM settings are set the way they want them to be.
- Filter and hide comments or DMs from people who don’t follow you: With comment filters turned on, offensive comments will automatically be hidden. Your teen can also create a custom list of keywords, so comments containing those words will be hidden automatically, too. You can decide who can comment on your videos in general by adjusting your Privacy settings.
- Limit Your Comments and DM Requests
- Filter Messages
- Manage Mentions and Tags: people may use tags or mentions to target or bully others online. Encourage your teen to use our tools to manage who can tag or mention them on Instagram.
- Encourage them to add restrictions to their profile: With the ‘Restrict’ feature, they can protect their account from unwanted interactions in a quieter, more subtler way. Once Restrict is enabled, comments on their posts from a person they have restricted will only be visible to that person. They can choose to approve, delete or ignore the comment.
- Block a follower: If your teen doesn’t want to see posts or comments from someone, they can remove that follower at any time, or permanently block that account from being able to view their content or send them messages.
- Blocking People
- Report abuse: Make use of our built-in tools to help your teen report posts, comments or people who are bullying.