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Real Talk: Start the conversation about cyber bullying

A professional's perspective

GET THE OTHER PERSPECTIVE: Click here to see how a mom of teens answers the same question!

Being the target of bullying is a traumatic experience for any adolescent. It can significantly diminish their self-esteem and leave them feeling depressed and anxious.  Today, technology creates more opportunities for bullying than ever before. In Cyberbullying situations, there might be a change in your child’s usual pattern of online communication, for instance, avoiding it completely, or becoming obsessed with checking messages and accounts. You might also notice that a child seems tense or anxious when checking an account or getting a text message.

If bullying is left unaddressed a number of other issues can develop including depression, eating disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder and even thoughts of suicide.

Before you talk to your child or adolescent about bullying be aware of what bullying is and what forms it can take so you can speak from a clear understanding of the topic.

Bullying is a unique form of aggression; it is a distinctive pattern of harming and humiliating others.

The newest form of aggression is cyber bullying. This involves sending hurtful messages over digital devices like computers and cell phones. The ubiquity of hand-held and other devices affords bullies any-time access to their prey and harassment can often be carried out anonymously.

Victims don't report

Many targets of bullying do not tell anyone what is happening. For some teens, they are embarrassed, confused and afraid, or feel they can handle it on their own. Unfortunately, some adults and school systems have established a pattern of not adequately addressing bullying and young people feel that telling will not do any good.

If your child has any of the following he or she may be targets of a bully.

Unexplained injuries, changes in eating or sleeping habits, frequent unexplained “sick” days, missing personal items, grades declining, isolation, or being left out of social activities.

Talk about bullying directly. Assure kids that they are not alone. There is no right or wrong answers to these questions, but it is important to encourage kids to answer them honestly. Start conversations about bullying with questions like these:

  • What does “bullying” mean to you?
  • Describe what kids who bully are like. Why do you think people bully?
  • Who are the adults you trust most when it comes to things like bullying?
  • Have you ever felt scared to go to school because you were afraid of bullying? What ways have you tried to change it?
  • What do you think parents can do to help stop bullying?
  • Have you or your friends left other kids out on purpose? Do you think that was bullying? Why or why not?
  • What do you usually do when you see bullying going on?
  • Do you ever see kids at your school being bullied by other kids? How does it make you feel?
  • Have you ever tried to help someone who is being bullied? What happened? What would you do if it happens again?

Every child and adolescent needs to know that they are being heard, that their feelings matter and that their issue will be investigated respectfully. Bullying should always be taken seriously.

Discuss strategies with your child and set a short period of time to see if they can resolve the situation on their own. Many students want to try to deal with the bullying themselves if they get useful tips about what to do.

For some parents, it may be tempting to tell a kid to fight back. After all, you're angry that your child is suffering and maybe you were told to "stand up for yourself" when you were young. It's important to advise kids not to respond to bullying by fighting or bullying back. It can quickly escalate into trouble and someone getting injured.

Here are some other strategies to discuss with kids that can help improve the situation and make them feel better:

  • Avoid the bully and use the buddy system. Use a different bathroom if a bully is nearby and don't go to your locker when there is nobody around. Make sure you have someone with you so that you're not alone with the bully. Buddy up with a friend on the bus, in the hallways, or at recess.
  • Act brave, walk away, and ignore the bully. Firmly and clearly tell the bully to stop, and then walk away. Practice ways to ignore the hurtful remarks. By ignoring the bully, you're showing that you don't care.
  • Talk to someone you trust. They may offer some helpful suggestions. Even if they can't fix the situation, it may help you feel a little less alone.

What to do if your child is a victim of cyberbullying
Finding out that your child is being targeted can be upsetting for both of you. Here are some tips you can give your child to lessen his/her exposure and remove power from the bully:

  • Do not respond to any of the bully’s messages, posts, or emails. Bullies are often seeking a reaction from the victim or from bystanders—so don’t give them one.
  • Block the bully. Use the settings of social media sites and cell phones to block messages from bullies and prevent them from having access to what you post.
  • Use online mechanisms to report the bully. Most websites have easy and anonymous ways to report cyber bullying, which can lead to suspension of the bully’s account.
  • Keep evidence of all communications. Print out all messages and images that have been posted.Take screenshots whenever possible.

Cyber bullying is harder for adults to observe than face-to-face bullying; youth are often the only ones who know about it. Let children know that sharing with you won’t affect their online privileges and that you’ll continue to respect their privacy if they do the right thing.

Bullying in any form can be extremely harmful to a child or an adolescent. Keep in mind as a parent you are in the best position to be the first line of defense to help your child or adolescent resolve this difficult issue.


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