Cyber-Bullying, Our Children and Technology
“The world would be a better place without you”… This was the final message 13-year-old Megan Meier would read before going upstairs to hang herself in her closet; a victim of cyber-bullying.
49-year-old Lori Drew, who lived down the street from the Meiers, had created a fake My Space account as 16-year-old “Josh.” She set out to bully and harass Megan. Tina, Megan’s mom, tried to keep a watchful eye and yet she couldn’t monitor every minute her daughter was online.
I remember when My Space came on the scene. My daughter was 13 and I vigilantly monitored her online activity and that of her friends. The internet was relatively new and I was frightened that these girls were putting all of their personal information out there online! Her friends called me “stalker mom” and while I know that was hard on my daughter, I remained steadfast in my assertion that the internet was a dangerous place for kids. Sadly, the point was driven home when 13-year-old Christina Long (from our hometown of Danbury, CT) was strangled to death by a man she met on the internet. I took no satisfaction at being “right”.
That was back in 2002 and while a great deal has changed, a lot still has not. The internet has evolved and yet our kids are still very vulnerable.
Bullying has extended from school hallways to cell phone and computer screens. Cyber-bullying has the allure of anonymity and the sense of immediacy. Our society really has become addicted to instant gratification. Teens, whose pre-frontal cortex hasn’t fully formed, lack impulse control (and some would say good judgment). Sometimes “just a press of a button” is too easy to resist.
Over a third of students have reported being cyber-bullied. And, while we moms are still on Facebook, the research shows that more kids are using Instagram for their social media and more.
When you suspect cyber-bullying…
So, what’s a parent to do?
1 First things first: stay calm!! (Here are 4 quick coping skills for stress and anxiety that you can use to calm down now.) I admit, I overreacted many times while raising my kids. I can clearly see now how that was NOT helpful! Many times when we overreact it causes our kids to shut down and shut us out. If they’re being bullied or cyber-bullied, this is a time when they need our support and guidance more than ever.
2 Now that you’re coming from a calmer place – have a conversation with your son/daughter. Remember one of my favorite sayings; “We have 2 ears and 1 mouth for a reason!” Listening more will garner you more information and enable you to help in a more productive way.
3 Depending on your child’s age, you may or may not be monitoring their online activity. But if they are being cyber-bullied, this is not a time for privacy, It’s important to take screenshots and/or print out the messages or photos. It can also be helpful to keep a log and write out a timeline of activities.
4 Next, you want to enlist professional guidance. Going to the offender’s parents is not the answer! Chances are, it will only put them on the defensive. Many schools and communities now offer anti-bullying programs. See if there’s one in your community or contact your school’s guidance counselor.
When the bullied becomes the bully
Hard as it might be to think about, many times those who are being bullied turn around and become the bully. This is another reason you need to monitor your adolescent/teen’s online activity. If your son/daughter has reacted with their own bullying, stay calm and keep that open line of communication. Remember, if your child is being bullied or cyber-bullied, they are already emotionally fragile. If you lose your cool, you could potentially be isolating your child at a time when they need you more than ever.
Coping Skills To Deal With The Stress & Anxiety of Cyber-Bullying
I’m a big proponent of coping skills to deal with stress and anxiety. In a perfect world, I’d love to see us all use these coping skills to prevent the buildup of extreme emotions, just like we brush our teeth to prevent the build up of plaque and tartar. When emotions run high because your adolescent/teen is being bullied or a victim of cyber-bullying, here are 4 quick and easy techniques you can use NOW to take the edge off.
Now, it’s your turn. What’s the most important insight or tip you’re taking away from this conversation? If you’ve got more than one, fabulous! Do you have any tips that you’d like to share? Let me know by leaving a comment below.
Remember, share as much detail as possible in your reply. Your comment may help another parent who has a child dealing with cyber-bullying. The more we talk about bullying, the more light we can shed on this very concerning topic, the more children we can help!
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Love & blessings…