People talk about cyberbullying a lot these days. Melania Trump even declared it as her potential First Lady focus during the 2016 presidential campaign. But hearing about it in the news and watching your child suffer cyberbullying are two entirely different things. And it’s easy to let emotions get in the way when you feel like your child is being threatened.
Most kids who are cyberbullied are typically harassed by the same bullies they encounter at school, clubs, or any other social situation in which they may engage. Online, bullies tend to use microaggressions to intimidate their victims. Microaggressions include:
● Microassaults - purposeful discriminatory actions from exclusion to verbal attacks
● Microinsults - using demeaning and hurtful words
● Microinvalidation - excluding or negating a person’s thoughts or feelings
This round-the-clock abuse can leave lasting effects on your child, and kids who suffer from cyberbullying are more likely to engage in dangerous behaviors like abusing drugs or alcohol. They also have lower self-esteem and are more prone to harming themselves. Children who are the targets of cyberbullies will often lose focus in school as well as interest in the things they once loved. The stress and anxiety they feel permeates their lives and can even lead to health problems.
Keeping Lines of Communication Open
While you can’t control what goes on in your child’s life, you can facilitate a healthy relationship where they feel comfortable coming to you with anything. Speak to your child with honesty and let them know how much you value your conversations. Become the kind of listener your child can come to with their problems and frustrations so that when they’re in a crisis and feel like they have nowhere else to turn, they will turn to you.
This can’t be done with force -- it has to be organic. Even if your child is resistant toward opening up to you, keep the lines of communication open. A good way to do this is by talking to them about your life and entrusting them with your thoughts and feelings. Your child is more likely to trust you if you show them that even you are vulnerable.
Reacting to the News
If your child is being cyberbullied, chances are they’re afraid to tell anyone else about it. Whether they’re receiving mean or threatening messages or an online rumor is circulating about them, the embarrassment is amplified when they think about passing the information on to their parent. After all, you may turn it around and think it’s their fault. Or worse, you could tell them it’s no big deal and they should tough it out. While you know you wouldn’t react that way, your kid has a much more active imagination when it comes to ways things can go wrong.
Your reaction to cyberbullying should go hand-in-hand with keeping lines of communication open. Ask questions and get as much objective information as you can from your child. Get their opinion on how they would prefer for this situation to be handled, but also offer tangible solutions in the likely scenario they say “nothing.” Most importantly, don’t judge or belittle your child in this situation. Bullying happens to a lot of people, but that doesn’t diminish its impact. According to a study done at Yale University, victims of bullying are 2 to 9 times more likely to consider suicide.
Assessing the Damage
If you’ve kept the lines of communication open enough that your child feels comfortable coming to you with their cyberbullying problem, you’ve done the hardest part. Assessing the amount of danger your child may be in is the last important step. The first danger you need to assess is their danger to themselves. If they’re losing sleep, feeling sick, or getting bad grades, then you will need to address those problems immediately.
Additionally, make sure your actions don’t further escalate the bullying or put your child in harm’s way. If you find yourself working with authorities -- whether it’s a teacher, school administrator, or law official -- work toward a low profile so your child isn’t exposed to further trauma. Working with a child psychiatrist or professional counselor can ensure you take the right steps to ensure your kid’s health and safety.
Dealing with Cyberbullying
If you want to help prevent the damage that cyberbullying can bring, promote an open and honest relationship with your kid where they want to come to you with their problems. In line with keeping communication open, don’t be judgemental or dismissive if your child comes to you with a bullying issue. Finally, treat any bullying situation with discretion and finesse, concentrating on helping your child without amplifying any dangerous or dramatic situations.
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