I was reading a copy of Psychology Today and this article caught my eye, “What Parents Can Do About Cyberbullying.” I highly recommend you read this article.
I think the author is “right on” in all her points; however, the article was not at all what I thought it would be about. Parents of bullying victims often contact me, desperate for advice on how to help their bullied child. Parents tell me there is not a ton of information out there to guide parents on what to do when their child is the victim of bullying/cyberbullying. Parents find that much of the published information on this subject is written by adults with some great ideas and things that should work “in theory” but is not realistic in the life of a teen.
I was recently contracted to speak with a large school community in Virginia and asked to address these very issues. It is hard to give an exact plan to follow; there are so many factors that play into each bullying situation. I am around teens and cyberbullying every day. I have a lot of experience working with victims, bullies, parents and school administrators. Based on my personal dealings, here are some guidelines that will help:
- Before anything else, get proof! Take a screen shot or photograph of the cyberbullying. Every time it happens, whether it is on your teens account or someone else’s account, record it and save it in a file. Proof of the exact behaviors, frequency and intensity is important.
- Stop and think before you react! Your actions and reactions will play heavily on the outcome of this situation and future situations.
- We can’t control what other people say and do. We can, however, control how we act or react.
- Keep in mind that it is impossible to stop a cyberbully. There are many forms and places that a cyberbully can take out their aggression on your teen. Many times cyberbullying is anonymous so it is hard to prove. Some states are more forward thinking than others when giving consequences to cyberbullies.
- The end goal is to stop the cyberbullying from happening. Many of the actions you decide to take will affect the outcome of this conflict.
- Some school administrators may tell you that there is nothing they can do. I have heard administrators say, “I can not watch all students, all the time.” Do not accept this response. Every child has a right to feel safe at school.
- If you can’t seem to get protection for your child at school, make sure you file a police report ever time the bullying/cyberbullying happens. They may not charge the bully but at least you have a record of the abuse.
- Desperate measures call for desperate action. You may have to remove your child from that class, school bus or school.
What NOT to do:
- Do not fight back on-line – the cyberbully is looking for a reaction. A reaction feeds the fire and will only make the cyberbullying worse.
- When dealing with the bully – do not name call, threaten or act mean, negative or hurtful. If you react by taking part in these actions you are now the bully/cyberbully.
- Do not storm into the principal’s office and demand the bully to be punished. Remember two things:
- Everyone is innocent until proven guilty.
- There are always two sides to every story.
The job of the school is to remain neutral and solve the problem.
- Do not put the school administration on the defensive – be careful about how you approach the school administration. Your attitude, tone and actions will affect how this will be handled. My advice is to approach the situation by asking for help. Your goal is to prove to them that your child is being hurt and needs protection. Keep in mind that the school administrator’s job is to protect the reputation of the school.
- Do not immediately contact the parents of the bully – Think how that might affect the whole situation. I have found that bullies copy the behavior of their parents. You know the saying, “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” Many parent’s first reaction is to defend their child. School administrators have told me 100’s of stories how parents have said…”my kid would never do that” before they have even heard what happened!! Another probable outcome is that it will make the situation worse for your child. It could feed the fire for the bully and cause the bullying to get worse.
- Do not tell your teen to “ignore it” or “stay away” from the bully. This does NOT work. The bully is attracted to weakness. He will see avoidance as weakness. If your teen has the guts to come to you for help and you don’t help them, they will lose faith in ever feeling safe!
- Do not tell your child that this is all a part of growing up or that boys will be boys. Bullying and cyberbullying is abuse and there is nothing “Ok” about it. Your job is to protect your child.
- Do not tell your child to “toughen up”. A victim does not have the power to stop the abuser. In bullying and cyberbullying, it is also typically committed by a group or one bully with a group of silent bystanders. Bullying is usually not one vs. one. Teens need your advice, direction and experience. Walk your child through this until the bullying has stopped or the problem resolved.
- Don’t give up! Cyberbullying is much worse than the bullying that you and I dealt with before there were cell phones and the internet. Too many kids believe it would be better to be dead than to live with the pain and humiliation of being the victim of bullying or cyberbullying.
What we CAN do:
- Teach your child about personal boundaries. We have to show our children how to protect themselves by putting up an invisible wall. Your child has the “right” to only allow positive, supportive, nice behaviors through that wall.
- Who are their friends? Are they healthy friendships? Do those friendships make us feel good? Teach them examples of what constitutes healthy friendships. Give examples of actions that happen in unhealthy friendships.
- How do their “friends” treat those that are not in their circle of friends? Are they nice, positive and supportive of others? Or do you see them treat others with mean, negative and hurtful behavior?
- Contact each teacher individually. Ask them for help. Tell them your child is being victimized and come up with a plan for the teacher to help while your child is in their classroom. Remember, if your actions put them on the defense, they will be of no help.
- Block the bully on your teen’s cell phone. If you call the phone company, you can block specific phone numbers from being able to call or send text messages.
- Un-Friend the bully. Most social networks operate by requiring a user to “accept” a friendship in order to allow access to your profile page or to allow them to send messages. If you remove this function, you remove the opportunity for someone to contact you.
- Your child’s instincts will be to read and reread the posts, looking for updates or to see if others have commented or “liked” what the cyberbullying is doing to them. Tell them not to look! (Tyler Clementi, the boy form Rutgers who jumped off the George Washington Bridge is reported to have checked Twitter and the mean comments written about him 42 times before committing suicide.)
- Teach them how to remove themselves from a situation. It’s OK to get up out of that bus seat and change seats. It’s OK to walk away from someone who is humiliating them. Make a plan of how they will handle the situation when it happens.
- Distract your child. Make plans to do things with your teen on the weekend. Go to the movies, get manicures or take the dog for a walk. Ask them to help you with a project. Volunteer together.
- Help them meet new people and foster healthy friendships.
- Get your teen involved in “adult” chaperoned activities such as scouting, church groups or charity work.
When a teen commits suicide, so many times we hear parents say, “I had no idea how much pain my child was in.” Make it your business to know who is saying what to your child. It is your job to protect your child!
If you have had experiences that might help others, please share them in the comment section. This is a great forum to offer support to each other! I look forward to hearing other experiences!
Image Source: National Bullying Helpline