When we think back on our own childhoods, it’s tempting to think that “kids these days” have it easy. After all, they have instant access to information at the tip of their fingers. There’s technology all around them built to keep them constantly entertained. And without even appreciating it, they can have a face-to-face conversation with friends from anywhere in the world, any time they want.
It’s hard not to feel a little jealous. Who wouldn’t want to grow up with all this amazing technology at their disposal?
But kids today have it tougher than we give them credit for. On top of all the social pressures that have always existed, they face new challenges that arise from our 24/7 connectedness. Challenges we may not personally understand.
That’s just one of the reasons parents find it so hard to talk to their teens about cyber bullying. We know what it is and how it can affect them—but we don’t always have the personal experience to tell them how to get through it.
But that doesn’t mean that you’re not qualified to talk to them about cyber bullying. As their parent, you are the best person to help them to look beyond their immediate circumstances, build resilience, and teach them the values to conduct themselves online in a way that is safe and respectful of others.
What You Should Know
Cyber bullying can take many forms, whether it’s posting an unflattering picture of someone without their permission, leaving a hurtful comment on a public page, sending threatening direct messages, or non-stop texting.
It happens across many social platforms like Instagram and Facebook, and on apps like SnapChat and WhatsApp. But bullies use many other communication channels to harass their victims, like email, Skype or FaceTime, even through good old-fashioned phone calls.
According to i-Safe, more than half of adolescents have been victims of cyber bullying—and nearly a quarter experience this abuse repeatedly. Additionally, dosomething.org claims only 1 in 10 victims of cyber bullying will tell a parent or another adult about their experience.
That last fact should give us all pause.
An Uncomfortable Silence
It’d be difficult for a child to hide a physical injury like say, a twisted ankle or a black eye. But there’s not always tangible evidence of cyber bullying. Our sneaky teens already go to great lengths to hide their online activity from us, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that their first response to a threatening text might be to delete it.
There are plenty of reasons why victims don’t come forward. First and foremost, cyber bullying can be extremely embarrassing. They may also fear being punished for their own behavior. Maybe they didn’t report a threatening text because they didn’t want you to know they broke curfew. Maybe the bullying involves a friend you forbid them from associating with. Maybe they have been reciprocating the bullying and bear some of the responsibility themselves.
Regardless of why the cyber bullying is happening, it’s unacceptable, and something needs to happen to address it. Oftentimes, teens feel like asking for help only means getting into more trouble and facing new consequences.
So how on earth are you expected to know if your child is facing persistent harassment?
How You Can Address Cyber Bullying
- Stay in the Know
Monitoring your kids’ online behavior is important, and it can alert you to cyber bullying your kids don’t want to talk about. As your children get older and become teens, they need more privacy—you don’t have to read every text, email or message that comes their way to know they’re safe.
The amount of online supervision needed will vary from kid to kid, but in general, it’s a good idea to know what apps they use and how much time they spend online. It’s also worth getting to know their online friends just like you would the ones they interact with in person. Read our Cyber-Safety First blog for more information on how to monitor online activity and set parental controls on mobile devices.
- Establish Ground Rules
Establishing house rules for online safety and conduct can be a good dose of prevention. But here’s the catch: the rules can’t just apply to your teen—there need to be certain expectations for parents as well. A family Internet contract (like this one from the Cyberbullying Research Center) can help keep your kids safe online. It can also encourage them to come forward when they’re in trouble by ensuring that there won’t be any unreasonable consequences for doing so.
- If Something Happens, Take Action
While it can be painful to keep a record of their abuses, encourage your kids not to delete any aggressive or threatening communications between them and their cyber bully. Print them out and keep a physical record on hand.
What should you do with this? If you feel the safety of your child is at risk, go to the police and report the threat. If the abuse is ongoing and involves other kids who go to school with your child, consider going to the school. They may be able to help mediate things between the kids, or between you and the other parents. (Dr. Adia Gooden, a Clinical Psychologist at the University of Chicago shares some helpful advice for that very scenario here.)
You may also consider professional counseling or therapy for your child. Just because they say they are fine, doesn’t mean they are. Look for signs for depression and seek outside help if needed.
- Be Empathetic
The most effective tool you have working at your side is empathy, and as a parent, you already have this in abundance. If your teen feels comfortable talking to you about what’s happening to them, don’t betray their confidence by being judgmental, telling them to “toughen up” or accusing them of over-reacting. Respect their dignity and don’t dismiss their feelings. Avoid jumping to conclusions and let them tell their story—this is one situation where listening can be much more effective than telling.
Approaching your kid’s situation with empathy can have immediate benefits, and can come as a great relief to a teen who has been bottling up their emotions. But it can have a long-lasting, positive effect too—finding a safe method for coping (like talking about their feelings to a nonjudgmental, understanding parent) will help them build resilience.
- Help Your Child “Disconnect” (Without Pulling the Plug)
Cyber bullying is much different than regular school-yard bullying in that the abuse follows the victim wherever they go. Every time they pick up their phone, check their email or go online, they are reminded of their torment.
It seems like the obvious solution should be to take away their phones and limit their online activity—but this isn’t a reasonable request. Ask yourself, would you be willing to cut yourself off from all the things you enjoy online, all your friends and your connection to the outside world just to avoid one bully? Furthermore, they need to learn how to respond in a positive way—avoidance won’t teach them anything.
Instead of cutting them off from the online world, re-introduce them to the real one. Take them on a hike or to their favorite store. Go see a movie. Play a board game. Just remember not to overdo it—your teen is still a teen, and for most parents, that means they’d rather do just about anything else then hang out with Mom and Dad. And if you have to force your teen to come along, it won’t do you any good. But sometimes just knowing that option is on the table is enough to make your teen feel included and loved.
Dealing with cyber bullies has, unfortunately, become a regular part of growing up. Every situation will be different and come with its own challenges, but by keeping an open line of communication with your child, extending a little bit of empathy and respecting their dignity, you can help your teen be more resilient in the face of bullies.
Disclaimer: The information contained in this blog (or any of its hyperlinks) is published in good faith and is for general informational purposes only. ImOnInsider.com does not make any warranties about the completeness or accuracy of this information. Any action you take upon the information found on this website is strictly at your own risk. ImOn Communications is not liable for any losses and/or damages in connection with use of our website (ImOnInsider.com).