Cyberbullying. It’s a topic that has been in the news quite a lot lately. Unfortunately, most of the stories are about the negative consequences after it happens. Cases such as Rebecca Sedwick and Amanda Todd make the news and go viral. However, for each person that is subject to cyberbullying and make the news, there are many more that go unreported, even to their parents. Plus, keep in mind that kids are not the only victims of cyberbullying. I know a woman who runs a successful blog who was harassed and bullied online because of her blog to the point when the other person threatened to kill her. It was a frightening experience for her, as it would be to anyone else.
When I asked on my Facebook page dedicated to help parents keep their kids safe online about people that would talk about their experience with cyberbullying, I immediately heard from several people that wanted to share their story to help others. Some, like the first person I mention, wanted their name used, while others wanted to stay anonymous. Thank you to everyone that reached out to me.
The first person to respond to me was Amy, a mother in Denver, CO, whose teenage daughter was victimized by 10 kids from her school. It got to the point that both the police and the school’s dean were involved. Neither of them could believe the acts and how severe they were. Because of the attacks, Amy’s daughter began hurting herself and wanted to die. She shared her story with me because, in her words, “If sharing our story stops one bully from bullying, stops once child from committing suicide, or opens a dialog between parents and their kids, then this has been worth it.”
In the case of Amy’s daughter, she knew who the students were that were victimizing her, but that may not always be the case. It is very easy to create an account on most social media sites using a throwaway email address, attack a person and then move on to another target. In fact, apps like Secret and Whisper allow people to post anonymously, making it impossible to see who is doing the harassment. The target could be someone that they already know or someone picked at random. In that type of scenario, they may not even “stick around” to see the results, taking pleasure in stirring up trouble for someone.
Many bullies do not see the harm in what they’re doing. Some say that they’re “just having a little fun” when they do it. As recently as yesterday, I saw numerous posts on Facebook by people that suggested that anyone who is upset by cyberbullying is a wimp or needs to “man up” as one teenager put it. However, to the victim, it is not fun! It’s about as personal as it gets and it can hurt. A lot.
Back in 2014, I attended a presentation on bullying (of all kinds) at a local high school. The speaker, Christa Tinari, from PeacePraxis Educational Servcies, was very knowledgeable and presented herself well. One point that she made that caught me by surprise was when a parent asked her what a child should do if they are the victim of bullying. My generation was taught to ignore the bully – they will get bored and go away. I was taught that by robbing them of their satisfaction, they would move on to someone else. While most kids and their parents would probably be alright with that scenario, all that does is encourage the bully to look elsewhere, to attack another person.
Elie Weisel, a survivor of the concentration camp at Auschwitz once said that “What hurts the victim the most is not the cruelty of the oppressor, but the silence of the bystander.” In another quote that you may know more readily, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Both definitely apply to cyberbullying.
To me, the best idea that Christa mentioned that night was the idea of “positive slamming”. This means that if someone is the victim of bullying, that the friends of the victim immediately post a slew of positive comments in response. To me, this accomplishes two things. First, it tells bullies that their actions are unwelcome. Second, it helps the victims realize that they are not alone and that there are lots of people that care about them.
I know that cyberbullying seems like an overwhelming problem; one that we might never eliminate. It’s sad to say, but I doubt that we will ever eliminate it. But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t try! When it comes to cyberbullying, we can do better. We MUST do better!
Parents, I have a few things that you can do to help fight cyberbullying:
1. Discuss what is acceptable online behavior with your children. Teach them that it may only appear to be kidding to them, but that’s not how it might appear to the person on the other end. Christa showed a great PSA at the presentation. While the subject of the video was not online activities, it still applies. Let your kids know that you care. They will listen to you!
2. Monitor their social media sites. Make sure that they know it’s not because you don’t trust them, but because you don’t trust other people that might try to harm them. If you suspect a problem, talk to your child. If you see inappropriate activity by your own child online, do not reply to it online – deal with it in person. You want to avoid embarrassing them in front of the whole world.
3. Regularly check the privacy settings of your children’s social media accounts. Service providers can change/reset them occasionally, so don’t just assume that they’re the way you left them.
4. Stay informed/educated on the latest issues regarding social media issues. Talk to other parents &/or your children’s teachers.
5. Have your children tell their friends what is and is not okay to share from their page, especially tagged photos. If they share content from your kids’ page, it will override your own privacy settings, based on what their privacy settings allow.