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I have a soon-to-be fourth grader, so I'm pretty freaked out by the cyberbullying trend: boys sending sexually explicit texts to girls, girls spreading rumors about other kids on Facebook, a bunch of kids cyber-harassing a new boy in school. A recent New York Times article detailed what goes on with cyberbullying and discussed how schools are getting involved. But as a parent, what I wonder is: What do you do if the school doesn't intervene?
The cruelty of middle school kids is nothing new (just see the 2004 movie Mean Girls). But the lack of face-to-face contact on the Internet (and texting) seems to free certain mean girls and boys of normal societal inhibitions, allowing them to more easily -- and publically -- tease and humiliate their fellow adolescents via text messages and Facebook and even get a lot of tag-along bullies to join in. This kind of harrassment didn't exist when we were kids, so I wanted to know exactly how to deal with it.
I consulted Michele Borba, Ed.D., author of The Big Book of Parenting Solutions, who says the first step is for parents to have a tighter “electronic leash” on their kids. She's written about cyberbullying extensively on her website and offers these tips:
Open up communication. Kids who are involved in cyberbullying aren't necessarily going to bring it up. Tell your kid that you're aware that this type of behavior goes on and ask questions about whether or not she's experienced anything like this. Listen with compassion and support.
Teach kindness. Show your kids that being considerate is an important value to you and tell them that it extends into everything they do, even if it's online. Remind them that anything put on a text message, website or email can be extra hurtful since it can be read and reread -- often by many others.
Keep records. If your child is being victimized, print out the material or save the electronic files. If the school or the bully's parents end up getting involved, this will help them find the right course of action. And if anyone threatens violence or extortion, call the police.
Stay in control. If you find that your kid's the bully, take away the cell phone or limit computer time to homework only. You do have the ability to stop another child from being victimized.
Teach confidence. Borba says that assertive kids are less likely to get bullied, regardless off how "different" they act or look.
Do you have other tips on cyberbullying? Chime in below!