Hello, my name is Ed and for the next few weeks I would like to devote every Monday to shedding a little more light on the types of bullying, what causes it and what can be done if it happens to your child.
I’d like to begin with the newest form of bullying.
Cyberbullying involves repeated harassment or threats online. This can also spill over into the real world and has caused a number of high-profile suicides with many more being tied – at least in part – to cyberbullying. Although it is done online, the effects can be just as devastating as when endured in person.
Born from the digital revolution, cyberbullying is a truly unique problem faced by the current generation. And therein lies one of the biggest challenges in addressing the issue: the generation gap between parent and child can make it difficult for both sides to relate to what is happening when someone is facing cyberbullying attacks.
What is important for parents to understand is that kids are very emotionally invested in what happens online because:
- what they post about themselves reflects who they truly feel they are
- what is posted about them is always accessible through the proliferation of mobile devices
- the eyes of their entire peer group is on them
Just like in the real world, most kids are eager to tell others about their interests with the thought and hope that others will be as excited about a topic as they are. When that doesn’t happen, it not only opens the possibility of ridicule, but also plants in the child’s mind that the things they enjoy are in one way or another socially unacceptable.
That feeling can be crushing to a child who gets all excited about posting something only to discover that they seem to be alone in that train of thought. Then there’s the scope of the ridicule and embarrassment.
Earlier I wrote about how I had a childhood bully who liked to tease me in front of the rest of our classmates. When a joke was made at my expense to a classroom of 25, it really hurt. Now imagine that multiplied to the thousands.
The level of embarrassment and the many directions that the insults come from give cyberbullying some serious emotional punching power. And because everyone and everything is connected to the web, those reminders are always on hand and always capable of being updated minute-by-minute.
That presents a lot of pressure on a child to either endure or conform.
What can be done
The occasional hurtful comment or putdown can and should be ignored. Don’t encourage others by posting a response to a negative comment, tempting though it may be. But if things become more serious, it is not an overreaction to bring it to the attention of others such as other parents, the school or even the police. So how do you know if this is happening to your child?
As with any problem, communication is key.
Talk with your children and ask about their day. Are they having problems with bullies at school, on the playground or on the bus? Chances are those same bullies and more are also giving them problems online.
Check your child’s phone for mean or threatening messages. Same goes for their social media accounts. If your child suddenly tries to avoid using the computer or phone, it may be a clue that they are being victimized.
Cyberbullying may often times be anonymous, but it is very easy to keep a record of. If your child is repeatedly being harassed online, keep a log of what is being said and where it is coming from. It may be useful down the road and at a minimum establishes the fact that there is a real problem that needs to be addressed.
Learn how to tell when a comment or picture crosses the line and becomes criminal. Sending a message to someone saying “I hate you!” may be mean, but a message saying “I will kill you!” becomes criminal. Your children should also know how to spot when something becomes more serious than just another mean comment and bring it to the attention of an adult.
Although the delivery method may be different, it is important to recognize that the impact on a child is no less real than “traditional” schoolyard bullying. It is also not something to be taken lightly. If the messages your child receives turn from hostile to violent or threatening, it’s time to contact the school and potentially even the police.
There is no doubt that the Internet has the potential to educate and entertain, but it also provides easy access to targets for a bully. And it’s important for adults and children to recognize that whether it’s said in person or online, no one deserves to be put down and verbally abused.