Cyberbullying and Your Teen: What Parents Can Do To Help

CyberbullyingRealLivesIt may seem harmless to see your child engaged in the latest social media application. She may be snapping pictures to her friends on Snapchat or posting funny status updates on Facebook to stay in touch with her classmates and friends. However, when social media posts and tweets take a turn for the worse, your child may experience the devastating effects of cyberbullying, ultimately damaging her self confidence, self esteem and mental well being.

Defining Cyberbullying

According to Dr. Kate Roberts, Boston-based psychologist and cyberbullying expert, cyberbullying is the use of technology to harass, hurt, embarrass, humiliate or intimidate another person. “Targets are the same students who are bullied in person,” says Roberts. “They are vulnerable, have difficulty reading social cues and they are often alone and socially isolated.”

Unfortunately, cyberbullying is able to occur 24/7 with the help of cell phones, instant messaging, mobile devices and social networking websites. “According to recent studies, almost half of middle and high school students have experienced or witnessed cyberbullying,” says Roberts.

Kids respond differently to abuse from others, says Jennifer Hancock, author of “The Bully Vaccine.”

“Parents need to understand that cyberbullying isn’t happening in isolation,” says Hancock. “It is a part of a larger pattern of harassment, that in the adult world would be considered stalking – and it is as emotionally damaging as stalking – so take it seriously.”

Knowledge is Power

Today’s parents consist of the first generation that has had to contend with this level of cyber harassment, says Roberts. Parents, however, can arm themselves and their children with knowledge when protecting their children against cyber bullies.

  • Have the ‘Cyberbullying’ Conversation: Children don’t like to talk about bullying, but according to Roberts, “the reason for this is they have likely bullied themselves, been bullied or been a bullying bystander and the talk brings up these memories and feelings of shame.” Parents need to have an open conversation and respond without judgment as their children open up about what they know.
  • Explain How What You Don’t Know Does Hurt You: Some kids minimize or justify cyberbullying by saying that the target didn’t even know what was said. Roberts suggests explaining to your kids that it still hurts. “Use their life experiences to illustrate how badly they feel when people talk about them negatively,” she says.
  • Set Cyber Safety Rules: Whenever your children interact online, remind them that they never really know who is on the other end of cyber communication. With that in mind, Roberts recommends enforcing the guideline of “don’t do or say anything online that you wouldn’t do or say in person.”
  • Monitor Online Use: Know what your children are doing online to help them prevent cyberbullying and cope with it. Limit time spent on technology to naturally minimize access to and involvement with cyberbullying, suggests Roberts.

Helping Your Child Cope with Cyberbullying

Your child’s school may be the best advocate for prevention of cyber bullying and, more importantly, enforcement of cyber bullying school policies, especially if your child is a victim. If you fear that your child is a target of cyberbullying, Roberts suggests getting to know the school administrator in charge of overseeing bullying.

“If you discover that your child is being cyber bullied, save the URLs of the location where the bullying occurred and document it by printing the e-mails or web pages,” says Roberts.

Many school districts enforce a “no tolerance” bully policy that now includes cyber bullying. In addition, school officers and law enforcement officials often monitor the social media accounts of middle and high school students to prevent cyber bullying.

The best thing you can do, as a parent, is engage your child over time to develop a strategy with them and make reporting a central part of that strategy, says Jennifer Hancock, author of “The Bully Vaccine.”

“Whatever strategy you develop has to be comprehensive and your child has to take the lead on it with your support and assistance to report any incidents,” says Hancock. “They probably won’t be willing to disconnect entirely, but perhaps you can convince them to ban certain individuals from their Facebook stream so that they don’t see the content anymore.”

Unfortunately, many kids do not tell their parents about cyberbullying because they fear the parent’s first response is to get rid of the child’s access to the Internet. Be more creative, says Hancock. “Help them keep their access to the Internet but eliminate the people harassing them,” she says. “That works to instill trust and helps your child come to you for help in the future.”

Seek help from outside resources, too, such as your child’s peers, friends and neighbors, and ask them to inform you of any cyber bullying that may be occurring and affecting your child. In many cases, children who have been bullied – either online or offline – may benefit from sessions with a family therapist to discuss coping methods.

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Bullying: What Can You Do?

Bullying and cyberbullying are topics that we have to address and learn about.  From kids to teens to even adults, bullying is a growing issue that our country needs continually learn more about.  The lasting affects of words can be devastating – not only to youth, but to adults.

Being bullied is painful, but it is important to remember that you are not alone! Below are some tips on what you can do if you are being bullied.

  • Don’t ignore the whole situation: When you are being bullied, you naturally just want to make it all go away. As a result, some of us just keep everything inside or even avoid going to school! Sometimes the bully does stop and moves on to someone else, but this doesn’t always happen.
  • Always tell an adult you trust: Tell your parent, trusted teacher, school counselor or other trusted adult about what’s happening. Share all of the details, and let them know how this made you feel. Ask them what to do next.
  • Keep in mind that no one deserves to be bullied. Bullies are not bad people, but they are doing bad things. Sometimes kids become bullies because they are bullied at home by their parents and are determined not to be bullied at school—so they bully others instead. Knowing this will help you understand that the bullying doesn’t have to do with you, but with the bully.
  • Never fight back, but let the bully know you are not an easy target. Stay calm, and tell the bully with confidence and determination to “Stop it,” and to “Leave me alone.” Walk off with confidence.
  • Stand up to the bully if you feel ‘safe enough’: This is sometimes easy to say and much harder to do! If you do feel safe enough, confront the bully by telling him or her how you feel, why you feel the way you do, and what you want the bully to do. For example, “I feel angry when you call me names because I have a real name. I want you to start calling me by my real name.”
  • Be an Upstander even when you’re not being bullied. Read the Ways to Be an Upstander to learn about how you can actively fight bullying in your school.
  • Do not respond directly to the bully’s teasing: Sometimes we just feel too scared to respond. Not responding is actually another good strategy that we can use when we are being bullied. To the best of your ability, just walk away! This also an important tip to remember when dealing with bullying online. Keep harmful messages from spreading by not responding, adding comments, or sending them on to friends. (Again, it is important to let an adult know about this. When you are bullied online, print out a copy of the text or picture and show it to a grownup).
  • Don’t blame yourself! It is common for students to feel that they have somehow “caused” the bullying. Remind yourself that it’s not your fault and talk to a friend, adult in school, or parent about the way you feel! Write down your good qualities and discuss them with your family, and use this list as a reminder if you start to blame yourself or feel down.

Source:  School Climate