Parents of teens used to worry that their child would be the target of the school bully on the playground or school hallways. But now that your child is growing up and yesterday’s tormenters have gone tech-savvy, online aggression is the new concern. What’s worse, online bullying tends to happen behind closed doors, on a phone or computer screen. So parents often don’t even know that their child has been the victim of an online bully.

Based on the latest research, cyberbullying among teens is rampant. A survey titled “2014 Teens and the Screen Study,” from the worldwide technology safety company McAfee, found that 87 percent of youth have witnessed cyberbullying. Seventy-two percent of kids who were bullied online said personal appearance was the reason. Twenty-six percent of teens said they were bullied online due to race or religion.

And it’s not as if these aggressive behaviors disappear after kids leave middle school or high school. A recent report from Pew Research Center found that young adults between 18 and 29 experience more online harassment than any other group. About two-thirds of young adults have been the target of aggressive online behaviors, including being called offensive names, purposefully embarrassed, physically threatened, stalked or sexually harassed. Most of this aggression occurs while on social networking sites or while using popular apps.

As a parent, it’s easy to throw up your hands and say, “Forget it! I just won’t allow my child to go online or use a cell phone.” Of course, we know that this isn’t practical in today’s world. Instead, you need to first make sure that your teen knows how to behave appropriately online. Your also need to get more informed about the sites and apps your teens uses and have a plan in place should your teen be the target of an online bully.

A few pointers:

Deliver a message. Having a cell phone and/or being allowed on social networking sites is a privilege, not a right. Let your teen know that she needs to behave with the same respect and kindness she would if her peers were standing in front of her. I like to offer the “Grammie Test.” Ask your teen: If Grandma were standing over your shoulder, would you be embarrassed or disgusted by what you were saying to another person?”

Get online. During the question and answer sessions at the conferences I speak at, parents often joke that they have no idea what all these social media sites are. One father stood up and said, “I can’t keep all these Instagram, Snapchat, Yik Yak, Paddy-wack’s straight. I still don’t even know how to change my profile picture on Facebook!” And while it can seem funny, it’s time for us to find out just where our children hang out online. Just like you can’t teach a child how to drive safely without knowing how to drive a car yourself, you can’t help your teen stay safe on the internet without knowing how the sites work.

Monitor from the middle ground. The trick with teens is not to be overly permissive or overly restrictive, as both can backfire. The earlier you start with monitoring online use, the more effective you can be, say experts. And while a previously unmonitored 16 year-old might resist your involvement, it’s never too late to try. This includes opening up a dialogue about cyberbullying and online harassment.

Guard passwords. Encourage your teen to never share her passwords with anyone. Even best friends need to be off limits in case of a falling out that can leave private information and accessibility in the wrong hands. Screen locks and privacy settings are also vital for your child’s protection. Parents can find more information on how to keep their child safe here:

Talk about it. There are stories circulating constantly through social media and more mainstream media highlighting the fallout of bad online behavior. What does your teen think about the harassing behaviors that have been cited as a reason for a teen suicide? Have they ever heard about or witnessed another teen being harassed online? Ask your child why he thinks someone might engage in those behaviors and what would he do if he were targeted. Discuss your child’s concerns and perspectives.

Have a plan in place. Encourage your teen to report harassment to a trusted adult. Have him take screen shots of the offensive online communication. For more helpful info on what to do if your child is being bullied, check out this cyberbullying fact sheet from the Cyberbullying Research Center.

Dr. Robyn Silverman is a child and teen development specialist, professional speaker, author and frequent guest on Good Morning America. 

Dr. Robyn Silverman is a child and teen development specialist, professional speaker, author and frequent guest on Good Morning America.

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