1. Your Child Probably Won’t Ask for Help
Most young people don’t tell their parents about bullying online or offline. So if your child’s losing sleep or doesn’t want to go to school or seems agitated when on his or her computer or phone, ask why as calmly and open-heartedly as possible. Feel free to ask if it has anything to do with mean behaviour or social issues. But even if it does, don’t assume it’s bullying. You won’t know until you get the full story, starting with your child’s perspective.
2. Cyberbullying Victims Need to Be Heard
As logical as this sounds, it is crucial to emphasize that victims of cyber bullying need to be heard by an adult who cares. That’s why, if your kids come to you for help, it’s so important to respond thoughtfully and involve them. Just by being heard respectfully, a child is often well into their healing process.
3. Your Child Can Solve the Problem with You
Although you, as a parent, have a role in protecting your child, it is important to keep your child involved. The reasons are twofold:
- Cyberbullying usually involves a loss of dignity or control over a social situation, and involving your child in finding solutions helps them regain a sense of empowerment.
- Context matters. Because the bullying is almost always related to school life and your kids understand the situation and context better than parents ever can, their perspective is key to getting to the bottom of the situation and working out a solution. You may need to have private conversations with a teacher or principal, but let your child know if you do, and report back. This is about your child’s life, so your child needs to be part of the solution.
4. Listen to the Other Side of the Story
Your child’s account of what happened is likely completely sincere, but remember that one person’s truth isn’t necessarily everybody’s. Sometimes kids let themselves get pulled into chain reactions, where both people blame the other for doing something wrong. It’s important to get the other side of the story and be open-minded about why the situation is taking place.
(Note: Let your child know that this doesn’t mean that you believe what they say. You are simply getting more information so that you can understand how to handle the problem.)
5. Respond Thoughtfully, Not Fast
What parents don’t always know is that they can make things worse for their kids if they act impulsively. A lot of cyber bullying involves somebody getting marginalized (put down and excluded), which the bully thinks increases his or her power or status. If you respond publicly (i.e. on your kid’s social media post) or if your child’s peers find out about even a discreet meeting with a teacher or principal, the marginalisation could get worse.
This is precisely why any response needs to be planned and well thought out.
6. The Ultimate Goal is to Restore Self-Respect
When people think about cyber bullying solutions, most people think about punishing the bully. As a parent, however, you ultimately want what’s best for your child.
That said, the best focus for resolving any cyber bullying problem is to help your child heal from the effects of cyber bullying. What your child needs most is to regain a sense of dignity. Sometimes that means standing up to the bully, sometimes not.
Whatever the case may be, you and your child can figure out how to reach a positive outcome together. It’s not something that can be “downloaded” or taught. We – as parents – have to go through it by responding to the cyber bullying challenges and making sure we do what we can to prevent it, or at least make sure there is a minimal impact.
Remember to give your child space to do that on their own, but to also remind them that you always have their back.