Once dismissed as the antics of “kids being kids,” bullying is a very real problem with far-reaching and sometimes tragic implications. Where bullies were restricted to tormenting their victims on the schoolyard or on the way home, the scope of the Internet and the structure of an always-connected society has brought bullying right into kids’ homes, making it feel like their torment is inescapable. For parents of cyberbullying victims, it’s not always easy to know where to start or how to handle such an explosive and potentially dangerous situation.
Recognizing the Signs of Cyberbullying
Kids typically aren’t eager to open up to anyone about the humiliation and degradation they’re suffering at the hands of their peers, which can make it difficult for parents to realize that their children are being victimized. There are some behavioral patterns, though, that can indicate the presence of a cyberbully in your child’s life.
Social withdrawal, especially a sudden avoidance of their phone or computer, is usually one of the first signs that a child is being targeted by a cyberbully. If your once gregarious child seems anxious when she gets a new text message or avoids the computer she once ached to spend time on, it could be a sign that she’s also seeking to avoid the attention of someone that’s tormenting her via cyberspace. Kids that are being victimized by bullies may also exhibit bullying or domineering behavior at home, usually directed at younger siblings, and act out as a means of expressing pent-up anger and frustration. Talking to your child about what’s going on will require a large measure of patience because she’s likely to be reticent. Don’t push or prod her to discuss something she absolutely does not want to discuss, but be on the lookout for problematic behavior and make it clear to her that you’re always there if she does need to talk.
Helping Your Child Cope With Cyberbullying
Establishing an open dialogue about the nature of bullies and encouraging your child to come to you with any issues she’s facing help to bring the problem to light, but may not do much to alleviate the issue at hand. Make sure that you have a game plan in place for helping your child manage the stress of being targeted by cyberbullies, up to and including a plan of intervention. The Mayo Clinic recommends that parents take a proactive role in protecting their kids from bullies, so consider discussing the matter with school administrators and teachers. If your child is being bullied online by a schoolmate while she’s at home, there’s a good chance that she’s enduring the same treatment in person while she’s at school. The Mayo Clinic also states that being the target of bullies increases a child’s chances of suffering from depression, anxiety and low self-esteem, and that it may be necessary to seek counseling or other professional help if your child’s anxiety is becoming overwhelming for her.
Handle Interventions Carefully
When your child is being hurt by her peers, your protective instincts are the first to rise to the surface. Before contacting another parent, take a bit of time to collect yourself and get your emotions under control. Carefully phrase the situation in a way that’s not accusatory or inflammatory, even if you’re secretly seething. Let the other parent know that you understand that kids make jokes and comments in poor taste, but that you thought she should know what’s being said when she’s not paying attention and that your own child was very hurt by the situation. Don’t accuse the parents of your child’s tormentor of facilitation or being bad parents, as it will only raise their ire at you and potentially make the situation worse for your child. Try to frame your comments in such a manner that they aren’t inflammatory or rude, and make sure they send the message that you’d like to work together as parents to resolve the conflict.
Foster an Environment of Trust, Not Spying
It’s simple to install a keylogger program on your family computer or monitoring software that will allow you to access kids’ social networking accounts, but it also sends the message to a child who’s already being bullied and tormented that her parents don’t trust her. Consider these programs as a last resort, and instead try to foster an open, judgment free zone where your child is free to discuss her worries and troubles without fear of parental disapproval or anger.
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