Dear YFS…Tackling Cyberbullying

Originally published in Mercer Island Reporter August 2017

 

Dear YFS,

My husband and I were saddened to hear that our freshman high school daughter is being bullied on social media. She showed us some really disturbing comments. She has a great head on her shoulders and we have good communication, but I know this can lead to real problems. What do we do?

SP

 

Dear SP –

I am sorry to hear your daughter is experiencing bullying through social media. This type of bullying is somewhat common (more so in middle than high school) and causes a lot of distress to the victim. The great news is that your daughter is speaking with you. Over half of young girls who experience this do not tell their parents.

There are many things parents can do to address and stop bullying. Consider normalizing the experience for her by putting it in perspective – about half of all high school girls will experience some kind of cyber (or media) bullying. However, still stress the real hurt it can cause. Clarify bullying is not about her or anything she did, but about a bully’s behavior and their need to feel power (albeit illegitimately) at the expense of others. She needs to hear loud and clear it is not her fault.

Do not dismiss the behavior as just “catty girl behavior” or “just how some girls are.” Bullies act emotionally abusive as a way to boost their esteem or social standing. Cyber bulling attempts to exclude, demean, threaten or embarrass an individual to cause emotional pain in a way that will be seen by many people. The result is legitimately painful, so listen to your daughter with empathy.

To help your daughter, avoid inadvertently punishing her by taking her phone or internet privileges away. Instead, focus on efforts to end the bully’s influence:

  • Ask that she not respond to comments – this only empowers the bully;
  • Help her develop a plan so the bullying is reported to other parents, school personnel (when appropriate) and other adults – save posts, photos, and write down disappearing remarks;
  • Ask the school to attend to communications generated at, from, or around school activities; and
  • Block bullies from posting on any of your daughters media outlets.

Reporting bullying is also crucial. Reporting and calling this out will expose the bully’s actions and sends the message to the bully and bystanders that this behavior is not tolerated. If there is a direct physical threat or sharing of sexual material, be sure to report this to the police as these actions are actual crimes.

As painful as bullying is for young women, the situation can serve as a catalyst for discussions on civil media behavior. On-line communications are now a part of youth culture. It is a platform where remarks are devoid of usual in-person filtering. As parents, continue to discuss and model appropriate on-line communications with your children both for prevention and to help process a bullying event. Together, we can shape norms for appropriate social media communications.

 

Cindy Goodwin is the director of Mercer Island Youth & Family Services. The advice offered by YFS is intended for information purposes only and to guide you in seeking further resources if needed. If you have a question you would like to ask Cindy to answer in this column, or if you need additional professional resources, email miyfs@mercergov.org.

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