People are certainly familiar with bullying since it’s been an unfortunate part of the educational experience for decades, so much that bullies show up even in popular culture. As a parent, you should learn Cyberbullying Rules and these 8 words to avoid when discussing Cyberbullying.
Way before Marty McFly took out Biff and positively fixed the past, present and future in the “Back to the Future” movies, the Little Rascal kids were alternately making bullies cry or running from them, or Eddie Haskell was threatening the Beaver.
There are also more and less acceptable ways of dealing with bullies. Sometimes it’s ignoring them, sometimes it’s finding a way to be their friend, sometimes it’s taking them out yourself and being the bigger, tougher man. One classic mixed message about bullies was the Charles Atlas ad in old comic books showing the wimp on the beach having enough of eating sand and deciding to turn into a hero, and decking the beach bully in the final panel.
However, it’s a whole new set of rules with cyberbullying. There is no longer a physical threat of someone waiting to take your money or deck you on the school bus.
Instead, there’s someone on the other end of a computer or a phone sending harassing notes or photos. These could be sexual in nature, violent, or threatening, or all of the above. The older the kids, the more sophisticated the use of technology can be.
Schools around the country are even trying to figure out how to control or punish cyberbullying attacks, and are hampered by the fact that no physical harm occurs, attacks are often done after hours and not on school grounds, and even the basic definition of what constitutes actual cyberbullying isn’t quite firm. Victims may suffer damage to their reputations and emotional and mental harm, and in extreme cases, decide to end their lives. Boston Children’s Hospital’s bullying section said that repeated bullying can lead to dropping out of school, and even future symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Even if the actual bullying ceases, oftentimes, there is still material about the victim being distributed online or by classmates.
So parents are placed in a predicament of wanting to help but not knowing where to start. Should they threaten the person doing the threatening? No – that might make things worse, and maybe even subject them to the same penalties of cyberbullying as the original criminal. Should they threaten the school until they arrest who they think is threatening their son or daughter? No. Though it’s important to stay in communication with school officials, the school likely has a documented process.
But what they can do is be aware of what is happening to their child, the conduct of the bully or bullies, how their child is responding to the bullying, and any local resources.
They also can pay attention to the words they are using, which can help the child better cope with the situation or make them feel even more alone and isolated.
Words to avoid when discussing Cyberbullying include:
1. Delete: It is tempting to send texts or emails right to the trash and never want to look at them or think about them again. Parents especially can see the damage that these can cause to a child. However, these may be handy tools if the police become involved. They can establish a time and date range of behaviour, a possible progression of threats and harassment, and clear proof of who is doing the sending.
This documentation can offer a clear paper trail if this matter is pursued through legal channels, and can make an investigation much more solid.
2. Sticks and stones: The old adage that ‘words can never hurt you’ isn’t a good defence against computer bullies. Though there are no flying projectiles, threatening or harassing words can definitely cause emotional and mental pain. It’s one thing for parents to tell someone to ignore the taunts, but it’s another when someone is calling someone damaging names or threatening to expose a secret to the student body.
3. Deal: A child being bullied already feels vulnerable and likely feels responsible for some of the negative attention. They would like a parent to be there to listen to what’s happening and help figure out what’s happening or at least sympathize. If a busy parent tells someone to “figure it out yourself” or “you’re on your own” that makes the child feel even more isolated from an unpleasant situation.
Instead, as CNN suggests in its anti-bullying resource centre, it’s important to make a victim of cyberbullying feel better and remind them of their talents and abilities.
4. Punish: According to Dr Elizabeth K. Englander, author of “Understanding Violence” and founder and director of the Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Center, parents of cyberbullying victims sometimes may accidentally begin punishing their child, such as taking computer privileges away to make sure they aren’t bullied again. While it’s true that it would reduce cyberbullying it still won’t fix the problem and may cause the victim to feel worse about their situation. Parents of possible cyberbullies may also meet out punishments.
Englander suggests that bullies and victims can both learn things from the experiences, including how words can hurt. Appropriate, consistent punishment also can come from schools following established procedures.
5. Blame: Asking “how did you let this happen?” won’t help unravel the current situation and will make your child feel much worse. He or she may have revealed some personal information online to someone believed to be trustworthy, or a classmate may have chosen him or her as a target and put effort into digging something up to bully. He or she may have accidentally indicated the wrong privacy profile on a social network page.
6. Ignore: Another favourite strategy of parents and ostrich is to hope that a cyberbully will stop if they’re not getting a reaction. It’s OK to turn off the computer or not engage the person, although it might make them try harder to provoke a reaction. You can and should set your email filter, phone and social networks to ignore/block any messages from a suspected bully. Marbella Family Fun said blocking is a perfect solution, as is notifying schools, law enforcement or your online service provider.
However, parents who say “just ignore it” and hope things go away aren’t being as supportive as they could be.
7. Confront: Bullying experts say this may not work, or at least the parents of a victim contact the possible offender directly. Even contacting their parents might not work – as Englander suggests, even obviously guilty cyber bullies may deny it, point to other kids or say the victim is making things up.
A more sensible approach is to involve the school, who can either decide to take action themselves or involve authorities. Schools have their own protocol for investigating or confronting students who may be involved in criminal activity.
8. Don’t tell anyone: Another strategy to combat bullies is to let people know about it – not just school officials but other students. If word gets out that a student is harassing people, it may create a network of supporters and safety in numbers. Students should not be afraid to tell adults that they suspect cyberbullying is going on.