By Matt W. Sandford, LMHC
Here we are in part 3 of a 5 part series covering the significant and impactful aspects of bullying in today’s culture, and how parents can identify and address the type of bullying and help their child not only survive the ordeal, but learn and grow and become a healthy person through it.
What is cyber bullying? It is any kind of bullying that takes place through technology, including hurtful, harassing or threatening texts, emails, or posts to social media, sending rumors or gossip, or posting embarrassing or shaming photos, videos or the like. In a 2013 government survey, it was reported that 15% of kids in grades 6-12 experienced cyber bullying (stopbullying.gov).
Wikipidia has a great summary of how cyber bullying is different from traditional bullying. The article states that the electronic forum presents some advantages to bullies – in that they can often remain anonymous, that they can reach their targets anytime and even into their homes, which traditionally would have been a safe haven for victims, and for the most part, electronic media is grossly under supervised and therefore there are less risks for them of being found out or confronted. One other advantage is that for the bully, they are able to easily heighten the exposure of humiliating or threatening content to hundreds or thousands more observers than they ever could have in person. It is very sad that this would be considered an advantage, but it is. Bullies are looking for reactions, and feed off the attention. The only advantage for potential victims, is that unlike when they are in the hallway or lunch room or class room or gym or bathroom at school, where they can’t escape so readily, they can block or turn off the bullying in the cyber world or not go to websites where it is occurring. Of course they won’t know to do that until after it has happened at least once. And, there are plenty of social media that cannot be simply turned off – like if someone posts something on their Facebook wall or blog. And unfortunately, social media sites seem to be notoriously bad at monitoring or responding to requests to remove content or punish infractions.
So, what can you do? Of course, in order for you the parent to identify cyber bullying, your child would need to tell you, or you’d need to discover it. If you aren’t monitoring their online communications at all, this means, you are dependent on them telling you. Bear in mind that kids often fear losing access to technology if they tell, so you’ll want to explain that you won’t take it all away, but that your intent will be to support and help them figure out how to deal with it effectively. Therefore, it is imperative that their online and texting presence not be a black box to you. You’ll just have to explain that you are responsible for them and you care. You can give some level of freedom, but don’t abdicate your responsibility to protect them. It’s also an opportunity for you to be in their lives and model and teach values and priorities.
Okay, beyond monitoring your kid’s electronic presence and experience, you’ll need to be asking them questions. I don’t just mean, “Is anyone cyber bullying you?” I mean things like, who are they interacting with and how they feel about the communication. You could approach it by asking if they have seen any inappropriate types of activity going on, but assure them that your objective is not to just get someone in trouble, but rather that it is about your concern for their wellbeing and because it is your responsibility as a parent. Test the waters to see if you need to build trust before you can ask some more direct questions. As you are talking to them about this topic, encourage them to come to you when they encounter any bullying before they respond in any way, so that you can guide the process.
Let’s say you find something or you child reports something. Now what would be prudent?
- Document it – save, screen shot, photo, and recording.
- Report it to the technology provider.
- Then delete the text, photo, post, etc.
- If you are able to, you could contact the perpetrator to let them know that you have reported their behaviors and warm them of serious consequences for any continuation of bullying activity. But do not engage in sending back insults, threats, or escalation of any kind. Then block the person if that is an available option.
- If you know the identity of the bully, report it to the school.
- Of course, there would also be levels of cyber bullying or harassment that would warrant contacting the police. When in doubt, contact them at least to ask.
Bear in mind that cyber bullying will likely continue to rise in prevalence, requiring parents to be more aware and more engaged. Prepare your kids; build a safe relationship with them in which they will open up to you and seek your advice – even during the teen years. Cyber bullying is in some ways harder to deal with, but in other ways is more concrete as well. If you teen has gone through it, remember that you’ll need to help them to process their feelings about it. Help them to see that retaliation isn’t productive (since that is often unavailable with cyber bullying and can be really frustrating that one can’t satisfy this longing to respond in some way). Help them rather to shift their focus to rebuilding their self esteem. Speak truth to them about their identity. Help them to connect with their friends and have activities and not shrink back from life or isolate.
As with any bullying, it’s not that something hurtful or embarrassing has occurred that determines our future, it’s how we respond internally – how we process it and what we decide to believe as a result. Show your kids that they chose what to believe about themselves, not what some jerk has said or done. Learning that we can get through something is a part of life that molds our character. It will certainly mold your own as a parent.
Next up, in part four of the series, will involve the ins and outs of effectively dealing with the school when your child is experiencing bullying – as it can be frustrating.
We have lots of great resources at our website: www.LifeWorksGroup.org
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