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Your Daughter is being Cyber-Bullied: What Can You Do?
Your daughter hurriedly closes the computer every time you approach her or come into her room. Lately she is looking pale and worn-out. Chloe’s grades have come down seriously, this last semester. She is silent and solemn. You can see the shine in her eyes gone but the light in her bedroom, where she spends every second she is at home is always on, way past midnight. When you ask her what is going on, she answers “Nothing”. She is fifteen years old. In the last couple of months she looks as she were carrying the burden of the world over her shoulders.
One day, you decide to take a look at her computer and you are horrified. You check her phone. The messages you see are worse than what you saw in the computer screen. The words you are reading are unmentionable.
When you confront her, Chloe confesses she has been called unmentionable names, insulted and humiliated online for everyone she knows to see. She burst into tears as she shows you doctored pictures of supposedly her in sexual compromising positions. You are shocked, not exactly sure of what to say or do next. Your heart sinks even further and deeper when you see her sobbing, uncontrollably. You wonder who is sending all this stuff and who is watching it, aside from her so called ‘friends’. You feel sick to your stomach.
Cyber-bullying means that torture and humiliation are always there, ever-present, not just at school but at your home too. It means there is nowhere to escape.
Remember the good old days when boys ‘just’ bullied each other? Those were the days in which boys used their strength to intimidate. Bullying, and intimidating someone through sheer force is not good, nor is it healthy. But, from the present perspective, those days seem almost simple. Of course hindsight is always 20-20!
The phenomenon of bullying grew to be better known. We now know that girls bully each other using what is called relational aggression. Relational aggression is a phrase coined to describe the meanness and violent behavior that takes place between girls. In general, girls do not use sheer physical force. That is why so many times, it goes under the radar of teachers and other adults. Its subtleness and timing makes it undetectable. With girls, it may be a tone of voice, a smirk, not allowing someone to sit down at the table at lunch, shunting or shaming the targeted person.
Unfortunately, today, the situation is far more complicated and harmful to the players in the drama of bullying. Why? Well… Boys bullying is brutal, we all agree. Girls bullying is psychological devastating, psychotherapists know about it and agree on it. But, adding cyber-bullying to the mix turns it into a catastrophe! Cyber bullying is the use of electronic communication to bully or torment a person. It is a free for all because everyone can participate on the torture and you do not have to face the victim. Typically, it involves sending messages or pictures of an intimidating, hostile and menacing nature to the target using the computer and the cellular phone as your devices to do so.
These days, bullying, relational aggression and cyber-bullying coexist and melt into each other. Home is no longer a refuge because everyone is always online. Children and teens bullied at school may continue to be bullied at home via Internet.
According to the US Census Bureau the Population estimate using the Internet in 2014 in the USA is 318,892,103 that is 87. % of the USA population1. A whole lot of people who can potentially, mishandle the use of computers, if you ask me.
Kids who are cyber-bullied get depressed, anxious, may develop eating disorders, suicidal ideation and even commit suicide.
I am not a technology person, quite the contrary, to be honest. To be more honest yet, I have a love-hate relationship with my own computer, which seems to have a mind of its own. Sometimes, when my computer does what she wants to, I long for an old typewriter.
But, as a psychotherapist and as a parent I know that we need to grapple with this new dimension that is so important in our children’s everyday life. The World Wide Web is scary unknown territory we must visit. Why? Because just as it is smart to know where your teen is (and with who) when she is out; it is equally smart these days, to know where she is at, when she is at home ’walking the streets of the web’.
In essence there are rules that are tedious to enforce with a teen because being a teen is about pushing back.
What can you do as a Parent?
- Teach your child empathy. If it hurts you, it will hurt someone else. If someone looks in pain, you ask what is wrong and try to help.
- Always maintain channels of communication open with your child or teen. Better hate a song but know the lyrics that not know what your child hears daily.
- Teach your child or teen what it is to be a good web citizen. Basically, if you would not say it in person, you cannot say it online.
- Make sure that a child knows that joking means that the target of the joke can laugh with you as well.
- Tell your kids that colleges, at least in the USA, are looking at prospective students presence online.
- Teach your child that anything in the web stays there forever.
- Teach your teen that snap chats do not really disappear.
- Let your child know that everything in the computer leaves paw print and as difficult as it might be, it is always possible to find that print.
- Make sure that your teen knows the legal penalties for cyber bullying and passing pornography in your specific state. Passing, receiving or holding pornography depending on your state, may mean photographs passed between two 16 or 17 year olds.
Someone else in the workshop named another software: Family Norton 3 https://onlinefamily.norton.com/familysafety/loginStart.fs
My husband said he would be the nanny at our home, and that we did not need special software. He was going to put the parental controls in place and not to worry about it; we did not need special software. As far as I could tell, Net Nanny was software that helped parents with time management, blocking pornography, masking profanity and social media monitoring. Net Nanny helped protect kids from online by monitoring activities related to your child’s or teens friends. So far, my husband has done well. So far, we have not had any cyber-bullying incidents happen in our family.
But, not all parents are computer savvy. For some, the web is still a mystery! For a myriad of reasons, for some parents using software is easier than disciplining computer time or managing the sites their children go to on their own. The reasons range from being busy to not knowing about computers to needing to be more stringent with their teens, to having had cyber-bulling in their own lives. The reasons are multiple.
Fast-forward a few years. As a therapist and a mom, I hear about many more and more kids either being cyber-bullied or doing real stupid things with their phones and online. How can we protect them? Is it just about more and better software that we need? A week or so ago, I found out about a new software called Familoop Safeguard 4https://www.familoop.com/.Apparently, the tool highlights suspicious people and events for parents’ attention. I read that the product protects children and teens from accidentally or intentionally exposing themselves to pornography, adult or violent content, whatever device kids or teens may be using to access the Internet. I have not tried the product and I do not know how it works. As you know, so far in my household, it is husband the keeper of computer rules and safety. But, it seems that Familoop Safeguard has an interesting feature, which sets it apart from Net Nanny and other widely known parental controls software. It merges the conversations from different social networks, instant messengers including Skype, emails and phone calls with a single person into one place and binds all conversations to people. Such approach allows you to get the whole story of conversations with any particular person regardless of the communication type. I have not tried any of the products mentioned above and I do not know if I will but, as a therapist and a mother, I am all for keeping children and teens safe. Safe means different things, different tools and different ways of acting for each family, according to each person’s role and character in the family and according to the culture you come from and where you live. We must find what safety is all about and how to protect our youth. Ignoring a situation is never a good policy. Not knowing what your child does in the computer is never helpful. Is it just about the right software? I am sure not. There is no software that can make up for open communication, family time, knowing where your child is and what she does when she is in her room alone. But, depending on each family, and their situation, software might be an important tool. And in the spirit of openness, and in trying to understand what is out there to keep our families safe, I may have the conversation about software with my husband one more time, this summer… And now, back to Chloe who is being Cyber-bullied.
Your Daughter is being Cyber-Bullied: What Can You Do?
If you were Chloe’s parent you could do the following:
- Tell her you understand how terribly difficult her situation is right now.
- Assure her that this situation will not last forever.
- Let her know you are on her side.
- Figure out if she is at the point of needing psychological or psychiatric help.
- Find out how long has the cyber-bullying been going on for.
- Do not ask her what has she done that propelled this situation.
- Do not tell her to ‘just not look at her computer’.
- Meet with the principal and offer to start a bullying-free zone at school.
- Offer to help the school have a cyber-bully free culture, which entails consequences for bullying or cyber-bullying.
- Offer brainstorming with her or the school to start a club for kids who stand against bullying.
- Help her to go to a support group for teens that are cyber-bullied.
- Offer the help of a therapist.
- Evaluate with a therapist whether she needs to leave the school or not.
- Assure her of your love for her.
- Explain to her the obvious: Life sucks sometimes!
- Hold on to the hope that she has now lost.
- As a parent, know too, that this too, shall pass!
My heart goes out for all kids and parents who have gone through the ordeal of bullying or cyber-bullying. Ask for help, know that there is help out there and truly trust, that there is life after cyber-bullying!