Ask a Lawyer: How to Stop Cyberbullying

Family/Kids, Relationships

While social networking sites provide the opportunity to keep in touch and stay connected with one another, they have also created a new playground where people are picked on and bullied. Unfortunately this year we have heard many media reports about cyberbullying, and their tragic endings. Another report revealed 1 in 5 teens have been cyberbullied and that it’s starting to happen at younger ages. 42% of of 4th-8th grade students have been cyberbullying victims. So what are parents to do if their child is being bullied? What are options for legal action?

We asked Long Island, New York Attorney Neal Goldstein with Goldstein & Bashner to answer some of these questions about the cyberbulling, and to offer victims and parents resources for seeking help if needed. In addition to the information provided here, Goldstein & Bashner have a free legal guide for parents of bullied children.

Avvo: What is cyberbullying?

NG: Cyberbullying is a modern form of bullying where a person uses technology—such as social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace, texting, instant messaging, emailing, discussion groups, and webpages—with the intent of threatening, harassing, humiliating, embarrassing, or otherwise targeting another person.

Avvo: What are some signs that may indicate your child is a victim of cyberbullying or school bullying?

NG: Here are some questions to ask yourself if you think your child is a victim of cyberbullying or school bullying:

1) Does your child seem unusually moody or upset, is having problems sleeping, has a loss of appetite, or is displaying other signs of depression?

2) Is your child avoiding social situations? Is he or she feigning illness to get out of going to school? When kids are bullied, school becomes a scary place and kids might avoid any social situation where they might be teased or bullied. It is very common for their grades to drop as well.

3) Has your child been complaining of stomach aches, headaches, having trouble concentrating, or exhibiting other signs of stress and anxiety?

4) Is he or she spending time more time in their room on the computer or conversely avoiding the computer? Are they closing out windows or messages when you walk in? Do they seem nervous when receiving a text message? Any change in their behavior concerning the computer or their cell phone is reason to take notice.

Avvo: How much responsibility falls on the teachers and school administrators or even other parents (parents of the bully) to help stop cyberbullying?

NG: States are now beginning to pass new laws that force schools to take some responsibility for cyberbullying. In New York, Governor Patterson recently passed The Dignity for All Student Act which requires all school districts to adopt stringent anti-bullying policies, train a staff member in instruction and counseling methods, and report incidents to the Department of Education. However, schools are still reluctant to act on matters that occur off-campus. It is important to involve the parents as well as the teachers and school administrators when resolving a bullying incident. Once parents and teachers are informed of an incident, they have a responsibility to make sure the bully is not being given an opportunity to continue and that the victim is ensured of a safe learning environment.

Avvo: What can parents do to protect their children from this type of bullying? What are some things they should not do in the event their child is being bullied?

NG: We have come up with eight steps for parents to take to protect their children from bullying:

1) Talk to your child. Find out exactly what is going on and create an open dialogue with your child to work together. Let your child know you are supportive and trustworthy.

2) Put the school on notice. Send a certified letter to the principal, the superintendant, the school board, and possibly the parents of the children doing the bullying.

3) Keep accurate, detailed records of each incident that occurs. Include as much information as you can–the date, time, location, the names of each bully as well as any witnesses, and a detailed account of the incident.

4) Document any bruising or other injuries with photographs and descriptions. If the child needs to see a doctor, get a medical report. If your child is suffering emotional distress, schedule a consultation with a social worker or psychologist and keep medical records.

5) If your child is being cyberbullied, print out and save everything that contains offensive comments, posts, pictures, or videos. This includes any social network pages, emails, phone texts, and instant message pages.

6) Notify the police. In cyberbullying cases, some police departments have specialists who deal with computer and internet investigations.

7) Talk to the parents of the bullies as well as the teachers, the principal, the superintendant, the guidance counselor and anyone else in the school system who you believe can help. Take notes at these meetings.

8) Find out if the school has a designated staff person trained for dealing with bullying. States are now beginning to pass laws that require schools to have staff trained in bullying and ensure that schools take bulling threats seriously.

What should you not do? You shouldn’t let others intimidate you. Don’t be afraid to report the incident to the school, the administrators, the school board, as well as the teacher and parents of the bullies. Some parents are reluctant to admit that their child has done something wrong–it is important to have the facts and not back down. Schools don’t generally want to get involved in cyberbullying when it occurs off-campus, but it is important to be persistent. This is merely an extension of the traditional bullying that has gone on for years on the playground. Schools have a duty to make sure all students feel safe.

Avvo: In your practice, have you seen an increase in these types of cases? Do you think this really is a growing problem?

NG: We have definitely been receiving more calls about bullying and cyberbullying recently. While bullying has always been an issue in the schools, cyberbullying has added a new dimension to the issue by allowing cyberbullies to hide behind screen names while posting threatening and hurtful messages that can be viewed instantly by anyone who clicks on that page. In addition, the bully has the added ability to sit in the privacy of his or her home and send off nasty comments and posts.

Avvo: When should parents seek legal help with a bullying issue?

NG: Whenever a child has been harmed, whether physically and/or emotionally, it is important to seek legal help to understand and protect the rights of the child.


Avvo: What are some helpful resources on cyberbullying?

NG: We have included on our website specific resources for children and parents on Long Island who are the victims of bullying. Most towns have local crisis centers that provide 24/7 anonymous support. Gay and Lesbian Youth support groups have specific resources to help gay and lesbian youth who are bullied because of their sexual orientation. Many communities also have various child protection groups set up with 24-hour hotlines to help. In addition, there are numerous resources on the Internet for parents and kids, including Stop Bullying Now! and Pacer Center’s Kids Against Bullying.