With the proliferation of cellular phones and social networking sites, bullying as we once knew it has been changed forever. Gone are the days where the classic nickname pasted on the back or intimidation on the playground were the main forms of peer-to-peer humiliation. Cellular phones with texting and Internet capabilities have allowed adolescents to bully and intimidate their peers at all hours of the day and night. In fact, this type of bullying can begin as early as elementary school.
The meaning and value of friendships and relationships has also been changed. If adolescence wasn´t bad enough, gossip, secrets, and fallouts from former relationships are being broadcast online for all to see. In addition, several high-profile teen suicides have highlighted the importance of educating children about how to protect themselves from cyberbullying and the vicissitudes of the social networking world.
An article in The New York Times identified some of the challenges surrounding cyberbullying, including the roles and responsibilities of children, parents, the schools, and the legal system. The article raises more questions than it provides answers. It makes it clear, however, that children need to be educated about how to prevent cyberbullying, what to do if they are being bullied, and how to use digital media responsibly. Here are some ideas for you and your child to prevent or manage cyberbullying:
• Talk to your children about cyberbullying as they are getting a cell phone or a social networking account. Explain the warning signs of cyberbullying for themselves and towards others. They should have had a firm lesson in the golden rule and how they should be treated and treat others.
• Discuss with your children how to protect themselves from cyberbullying. They should only “friend” actual friends and not just acquaintances on social networking sites. They should not post or send via cell phone anything that they would not want everyone to see. ´Sexting´or the sending of nude photos is strictly prohibited and talk to them about the possible consequences of this type of behavior. Let them know that any photos posted on the Internet, stay on the Internet.
• Monitor your child´s behavior on cell phones and online through frequent conversations. If you think that they may be in danger, you may need to increase the amount of monitoring by getting account passwords or using random cell phone checks.
• Discuss who they can talk to if they are being bullied – parents, a trusted teacher, counselor, or a responsible friend. Adolescents are often wary of talking to parents about this for fear of overreaction, so give them other good options.
• If bullying continues to be a problem, problem-solve with your child. Consider talking to the bullies' parents, school administrators, or if severe enough, to the legal system or law enforcement. Consider changing cell phone numbers or closing accounts.
• If your child is doing the bullying or using the cell phone or social networking account inappropriately after re-direction, consider taking away the cell phone or closing social networking accounts. While there are many positives to this type of technology, remember that it is a privilege and not a right.
The information posted on the Healthy Minds. Healthy Lives. blog is not intended as, and is not, a substitute for professional medical advice. All decisions about clinical care should be made in consultation with your treating physician.