Cyberbullying is bullying delivered through an electronic venue. According to the most recent research sited by the Cyberbullying Research Center, 40% of kids report having been a victim of cyberbullying over the course of their lifetime while 20% say they have perpetrated such. Moreover, a 2011 national survey sponsored by the Center for Disease Control found that 16% of high school students reported having been electronically bullied in the past year. The effects of cyberbullying on kids can be devastating. For instance, and according to stopbullying.gov, these can include substance abuse, truancy, school refusal, experiencing in-person bullying, a decline in grades and damage to self-esteem. This entry is designed to give parents six tips for both avoiding and responding to cyberbullying.
To avoid cyberbullying
• Spend one hour a week doing “special time.” This facilitates an open channel of communication about current events. Click here to download a handout on how to do special time. (I also explain the exercise more fully in the first chapter of my parenting book.)
• Put age-appropriate controls on internet technology. For a blog article on some strategies click here (or see Chapter Three in my parenting book).
• Intermittingly monitor your kids online communications. This is a complicated topic that is best summarized by describing the ends of the continuum. Too little monitoring risks leaving your kid walking in mine fields. Too much monitoring risks quashing independence and effective social engagement. It is the shifting middle ground where the most effective parenting strategy resides. Regardless of where you place yourself on this continuum, let your progeny know that you reserve the right to inspect any of his or her hard drives, cell phones, internet pages or electronic storage devices whenever you wish. It is this sense that mom or dad could find out that leaves a kid thinking three times about doing something risky or objectionable.
• Ask you child if s/he is aware of examples of cyberbullying, exploring her/his perceptions. You will likely be more effective in making your points if you share your opinions last, affirm what you like about your kid’s perspectives and end your sentences with question marks whenever possible (e.g., “what do you think it would be like to have several people laugh about your looks online?”).
• Promote adaptive and regular social contact with kids who seem to be doing well. Sitting on the fringes of the herd makes a kid more vulnerable to attack. Moreover, kids who are effectively engaged with successful peers are less likely to fall victim to an assortment of maladies.
• Limit access to sedentary electronic pleasures to two hours a day. This is a recommendation of the American Academy of Pediatrics. It makes sense because if a kid is plugged in more than this each day s/he is probably shorting other important developmental needs (e.g., to be physically active, to invest sufficiently in academics).
Responding to cyberbullying
• Make a plan for involving others. If your child is being bullied decide whether it’s best to approach a trusted school official, the parent(s) of the perpetrator(s), a clergy person, some other relevant trusted adults or a combination of the above. In these discussions consider whether there is value in letting the owner of the electronic venue know about the bullying (i.e., a growing number of states have laws prohibiting this behavior). The goal here is to find the most effective and kind way to have the bullying stop.
• Seriously consider seeking out the services of a qualified mental health professional. Being the victim of bullying can be a symptom of a compromised standing with peers. Moreover, and as I indicated above, being the victim of bullying can be devastating. Also, perpetrators of cyberbullying may likewise be hurting and stand to benefit from mental health services. Seeking out this assistance stands to do a world of good. For a referral, click here.
• Keep an eye open for some of the symptoms indicated above. If you see any, quadruple the importance of the preceding recommendation.
• Let your child know that you have his or her back 100%. This means being an empathic sounding board for painful feelings (which is very difficult to do given how much our kid’s pain hurts us), affirming his or her strengths, and staying active in solving the problem.
• If your child has witnessed cyberbullying, consider with him or her, how to let others (i.e., parents and school officials) know about this. This might range from a direct report to an anonymous note. (Services are also cropping up that allow students to make anonymous reports about bullying. For instance see “Talk About it.”
• If the cyberbullying does not stop after your initial round of interventions, consider consulting an attorney and/or law enforcement official. In this scenario I would also do a serious pro-con analysis on eliminating, or seriously restricting, your child’s access to the technology where the cyberbullying is occurring.
If you are interested in learning more about this topic, click on the first two links in this post.