The Internet and Social Media are powerful tools. It allows us the incredible opportunity to share our thoughts and experiences with billions of people around the world in an instant. While it can aid us in conducting research and getting to visit parts of the world virtually, it has also opened another platform for bullies and trolls.
Bullying among teens is nothing new, but it only happened at the bus stop, at recess or in the lunch line. Once a child got home, the bullying stopped. Now with social media outlets, they are providing new avenues for it, often out of sight of parents and teachers. Statistics say girls are about twice as likely as boys to be victims and perpetrators of cyber bullying.
Social media’s popularity has taken cyberbullying to new dangerous levels. The emotional, sometimes physical, and social implications for the young person involved can be lifelong. Cyber bullying is any form of bullying, harassment or victimization online. It can spill from on-screen to off-screen and affect the face-to-face interactions.
In 280 characters or less on Twitter, one picture on Instagram, or one video on Snapchat, teens can make hurtful and emotionally scarring comments (sometimes anonymously) about fellow schoolmates. Up to a staggering 70% of kids report that they have been bullied or have witnessed bullying and/or cyberbullying. Only 1 in 10 victims will inform a parent or trusted adult of their abuse because they are embarrassed or afraid they will get into trouble themselves.
Online safety is becoming tricky and is fueling a rise in self-harming among teenagers. The rate of teenage suicide has increased gradually because of cyber-bullying. Sadly, a new word, bullycide (children killing themselves after being bullied), has surfaced. The good news is, it is possible to weather a bully attack and come out the other end OK. It’s all about how you approach the situation.
Bullying is NOT caused by social media. It’s caused by bad human behavior. Talking to your children and teaching them good digital citizenship and resilience in the face of bullying can help. Help them use social media wisely and guide them in the steps to take to discourage the attacker.
Simple, practical steps can be taken to help manage the issue. Do not stoop to the level of the bully. Nothing makes you look worse than turning around and attacking in return. Take the time to listen to your children and not judge. Let your child know that you are there to help them, even if they are in trouble, you are there- no matter what.
Remember that it’s important to stay involved in their online lives (as well as physical lives) to help guide them through the tough times. Encourage empathy and resilience. Explain to them why open communication is so important, whether directly with you or a trusted adult they may feel more comfortable opening up to.
Reassure them that you won’t block their access to the internet and/or social media because they have reported a problem to you. It is not the app or platform that is causing the bullying! Advise your child not to retaliate or respond to any messages from a bully, which may prevent material being further used against your child. Have them block or unfriend the bully to stop contact with your child immediately. Help your child change their privacy settings to restrict who can see their posts and profile page.
Collect any screenshots of the cyberbullying to have evidence in case the bullying continues. Help guide your child in their decision making rather than telling them what to do. Empower your child and help them to make wise decisions for themselves. And if the situation persists and gets out of hand, contact the school and inform the police immediately if their physical safety is at risk.
Now, if your child is treating others badly, is dismissive of their feelings or targeting or intentionally excluding a child or group, they could be the bully. Do NOT ignore these signs. Explain to them the ramifications and life long harm they are doing to a human being. Talk to your child and get them the help that they need.
Bullies will always be in our world, whether online or face to face. All we can do is raise our children the best we can to NOT be bullies and not to let others get away with bullying. Do not let anyone ever dull their sparkle.
Girl Talk Marlton www.girltalkmarlton.org
Queen of Wishful Thinkin’ www.queenofwishfulthinkin.com