By Jenny Wise

In the past, parents only needed to worry about bullying at school and on the playground. With social media and the internet now connecting us at every moment, however, bullying has moved into new territory. Cyberbullying has become an epidemic among school-aged children. Reports of children taking their own lives are becoming increasingly common. That’s why parents, and especially parents of children with special needs, such as autism, need to be vigilant about taking the following steps to address the potential for bullying.

Creating a Network of Support for Children

Cyberbullying is a serious issue that requires serious solutions. If you find out your child has been bullied online, be sure to connect with school social workers. They can provide invaluable assistance when it comes to addressing and preventing this pervasive problem. School social workers can use their professional education and training to help your child feel heard, as well as help create a network with teachers, parents, and the school system to keep bullying from becoming worse in the future. If your child visits with a therapist as part of his/her autism therapy, you should also work with this professional to help spot signs of cyberbullying, address emotional fallout, and keep these issues from permanently affecting your child.

Staying Aware of Less Obvious Signs of Bullying

Recognizing that cyberbullying is a problem for your child can be a challenge. If your child is on the autism spectrum, that challenge can be compounded by any reduced ability to connect with social cues or pick up on emotions from others. In short, your child could be bullied online or at school and not even know it. While it may seem like this type of bullying will not impact your child, there can still be serious consequences. Try to be more mindful of social media and peer interactions involving your child. Look for evidence of bullying, such as hateful comments or evidence of ostracization by fellow students. You can also be on the lookout for non-verbal signs that some form of bullying is happening. Signs include loss of interest in activities, an avoidance of social situations, or a sudden change in overall attitude.

Preempting Bullying Incidents by Talking to Kids

You can’t always prevent bullying from happening. However, you may be able to prevent them from having as serious of an impact on your child. You should address cyberbullying with your kids as soon as they are old enough to have an online or social media presence. Talk about bullying with all school-age children. For children on the spectrum, this may require detailed conversations about social norms, especially for adolescents. This can help them be more aware of potential incidences of bullying from peers. You can provide examples of bullying to your child and explain why people choose to bully in the first place. These explanations will also help your child see that bullying is usually more about the aggressor than their target.

Recognizing Potentially Serious Effects of Cyberbullying

For some kids, being bullied may not feel like a big deal. Different children process these instances with varying emotions and intensity, so your child may experience bullying and not really be phased by it. Still, other children can be seriously impacted by bullying and cyberbullying from their peers. This is especially true when online teasing begins to further develop into online harassment, which is a shift that can happen quickly. You need to be able to react quickly to address issues with your child, but you also need to be able to recognize when bullying has become so serious that your child is at risk for self-harm. If you see any signs of self-harm or indicators of suicidal thoughts in your child, seek help immediately.

Cyberbullying, or any type of bullying, is not an issue to be taken lightly. It’s also not a problem that will go away on its own. So, be sure to use the tips above to protect your child from the very real dangers of online harassment and bullying. Doing so can prevent future problems for your child and possibly even save his/her life.

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