What Parents Can Do About Cyberbullying

After a 13-year-old girl was set to be taken off life support Monday following years of bullying by her middle school peers, the NBC4 I-Team provides tips on what parents can do about cyberbullying, according to Dr. Tracy Bennett, the CEO and founder of GetKidsInternetSafe.

Empower and Validate Emotion
Be a good listener and acknowledge the complexity of the situation. Working through cyberbullying tangles requires a slow and steady appreciation of nuance. You don't need every detail this second. Let it unravel. Allow your child to take the leadership position in problem solving. With your encouraging support, your kids will work to be kind of person they want to become. Taking a stand, even if it is a silent one, takes extraordinary courage. Consistently give the impression you have their back 100% no matter how they've participated in the conflict.

Don't Shame or Blame
It is a rare instance where the cyberbully victim has not made some attempt to turn things around, only to have those attempts be used as a further threat against them should they seek adult aid (e.g., "If you tell what I did then I'll tell what YOU did!"). Kids commonly cyberbully back as an expression of loyalty, self-protection, or as an assertiveness strategy. If your child bullied back, be understanding of their difficult position.

Facilitate Problem Solving and Let Them be the Expert
Children need sensible, engaged parents to help them analyze a complex situation and sort through response options. Assess what potential influence they have on the cyberbully. Ask "what if" questions. Coach them to generate a list of feasible options they can choose from. Help them track outcome. Don't take over! You want your children to seek your help in these painful situations. Show them your best, low-key, but effective support. What works in your adult world does not always work in your children's worlds. Ultimately, they are the experts and you are the facilitator. The more active they are in the problem solving, the more resilient they will be in the future.

Don't Rant
No matter how tempting it is to lecture, shame, blame, and yank technology privileges, this will just shut them down and guarantee they won't seek your support in the future. Instead, take their opinions seriously and keep your cool. By staying calm and deliberate, you can seek reasonable options rather than contributing to a very real, very painful crisis. Remain skeptical but don't interrogate, judge, or lecture.

Block Participants and Limit Compulsive Checking
Kids often avoid seeking help, because they are afraid their parents will take away their social media or screens. It's not appropriate to punish your child for the behavior of others. Instead, negotiate a strategy, like blocking and docking, that protects them but still allows them the freedoms they've always had. If you now realize change is necessary for safety, go slow and let them participate.

Save Electronic Evidence and Consult
School administrators and law enforcement officials are expert at handling cyberbully situations. Under no circumstances should you approach other children or families. Things can get out of control in ways you cannot even imagine. Seeking expert consult is an important skill for your children to learn. If they prefer, ask questions anonymously. If your child is so distressed it is getting in the way of school, friendships, or overall mood, consult a psychologist.

Three top things parents need to know about cyberbullying:

  1. Every teen is victimized here or there. Watch shaming your child further by assuming they had it coming somehow. Don't get overly upset at them or their perpetrator. It will force them underground if you do. Instead stay calm and work out response options.
  2. Most kids cyberbully. Sometimes it's a prosocial reason without insight into it's harm, like displaying loyalty for a hurt friend or asserting oneself against a perceived wrong.
  3. Kids response with shamed silence, but sometimes provoking others or making up cyberbully stories is a cry for help. Perpetrators need psychological support as much as victims do.
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