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Thursday, April 12, 2012

Cyber–Bullying: What Can We Do as Parents?

Cyber-bullying is increasing at an alarming rate, thus, it is vital that steps are taken to decrease and prevent further incidents. Most schools now have a zero tolerance policy and require both students and parents to sign anti-bullying contracts at the beginning of the school year. Laws against cyber-bullying are popping up from state to state.    

In the media, critics place blame on school officials and claim that charges should have been pressed in many cases. But what about the parents? Parents are the strongest advocates and disciplinarians for their children, so what can we do as parents of a bullied or bullying teen?

Parents should also have a zero tolerance policy for bullying.

Parental support is considered a strong, protective factor against bullying, and is associated with decreased incidents of bullying, including both face-to-face encounters as well as cyber-bullying. Talk to your kids. Be there for them. Show them love, compassion and empathy.

If you suspect your teen is being cyber-bullied, do not take it lightly, especially if you notice that it’s causing your teen distress. Contact the bully’s parents immediately. Find out how often your child encounters the bully at school or other places. Look over all instances of written harassment (Facebook posts, emails, texts), and if it is truly concerning, file a harassment charge.

Do not give your kids free access to the computer and Internet. Whether they’re 9 or 17, they are still your kids. Before long, they will be grown and you won’t have a say in their computer use, so use this time while you can.

Telling a teenager she cannot use Facebook at all will probably cause more distress than necessary. However, limiting the time spent on social networking sites is both healthy and necessary. Requiring your teenager to give you access to his or her account is a perfectly reasonable and even necessary request, especially if you suspect bullying.

A good strategy is to have your child’s passwords on hand, but always ask first to view his or her profile. Do this in a gentle and friendly manner. Let your kids know that you are doing this to support and protect, not to snoop and control. 

If they refuse to show you their profiles, look for yourself. If they refuse to give you passwords, take away the computer. An angry teenager yelling at her mother is better than a depressed teenager dealing with social bullying alone.

Do not hesitate to seek psychological help, especially if you notice any signs of depression. In a recent study, cyber-bullying was shown to be the only form of bullying that significantly increases depression in teen victims (Wang, 2010).   

If you discover that your child is engaging in cyber-bullying, take the computer away immediately, no questions asked. (Note: it is not necessary to shoot the computer with a shotgun, as the father did in the popular You Tube video).

Engage in frequent discussions imploring the reasons behind the bullying behavior. The teen should take responsibility for his or her actions and realize the damage that it may be causing another person. Require your teen to personally apologize to the victims. Teach your kids love, compassion and empathy.  You may need to seek psychological help for your teen. He or she may be acting out for reasons unknown to you.

The increasing problem and public awareness of cyber-bullying has resulted in tough policy enforcement in schools and the enactment of new laws against this form of harassment. However, as parents, we have the greatest power of all to stand up to this problem. Take it seriously. You’ll be doing your children a huge favor, even if they don’t see it like that at the time.

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