by Shawn Marie Edgington, Founder of the Great American NO BULL Challenge and bestselling author of the Parent’s Guide to Texting, Facebook and Social MediaThe NO BULL Challenge will use the power of social media to inspire students to build each other up, instead of tearing each other down. For more information, please visit The Great American No Bull Challenge website.
It’s sad but true. Technology has made it simple for mean kids to be down right cruel.
After the Jaime Rodemeyer suicide, it’s become painfully obvious that it’s more important than ever for parents to get active in managing their child’s digital world, just like they do for all the other aspects of their life. All kids are exposed, and it’s our job to protect them.
As the Founder of the Great American NO BULL Challenge, a national youth-led anti-cyberbullying campaign, I get to work with some of the most amazing teens from across the country. These teens are making a real difference using their leadership skills to help their peers and their communities eliminate cyberbullying. The sad truth is that most of these teens have been the targets of cruel kids who don’t care about what they say or how deeply they cut into their victim’s sense of self by using technology to bully them.
On a daily basis, I ask myself what is the bully’s motivation? In other words, are these kids seeking out their peers in an effort to destroy their self-esteem with a goal of causing long-term damage?
No matter what the reason is, the goal of the Great American NO BULL Challenge is to provide a national platform for America’s 25 million teens, to have their voices heard by writing and directing their own videos with an anti-bullying message. We plan to provide teens across the country the tools they need to stand up to cyberbullies, no matter how hard a bully tries to defeat their self-esteem.
Here’s the bottom line: Our kids are constantly connected to social media more than ever before, and it’s our job to help guide them through the online mayhem so they become confident in preventing and defending all types of bullying situations, before they spin out of control.
Step 1: Be Proactive, Realistic and Relatable
Get involved! Cyberbullying can start with children as young as 8 or 9 years old and typically continues until about age 16. Be proactive and tell your child to get an adult involved that they trust as soon as bullying starts. Kids fear there will be more bullying by telling an adult, but parents and school officials can help the victim of bullying decide what do and when the authorities should be contacted.
If your child comes to you for help, advice like “Just ignore her,” or “Don’t go on Facebook” aren’t realistic and are definitely NOT relatable. Most children have to go to school where they will most likely have to see their bully many times throughout the day. Can you say gut-wrenching stress? Additionally, what good is it to avoid helping your child build the skills they need to confidently stand up to disrespectful people? Cyberbullying attacks occur from the moment a child wakes up through the moment they finally close their eyes, only to have the continuous harassment and threats start all over again.
Think back to when you were fourteen. Walking away in silence, hiding and avoiding a bully was considered weak and actually invited your bully to continue his or her harassment. The same is true today, only children are exposed to hundreds of opportunities for harassment daily, thanks to technology.
Instead, when your son or daughter comes to you for help, say, “I’m so glad you came to me, and I’m so sorry this is happening! Together, we can figure this out.” If they don’t feel physically threatened, see Step 4 if physical threats have been made, come up with ways for your child to stand up to the bully using words and confident body language. Create a response script that works for your child and their specific situation. Tell kids not to react openly. When bullying starts, unkind kids are often looking for a reaction from their victims, a solid sign that their torture is becoming effective.
Help children block cell phone numbers, e-mail and social media accounts of the cyberbullies. If necessary, you can obtain Internet monitoring from companies like Proactive Parenting Network, so you can track and document attacks. Be sure to have your child report the harassment to the social networking site. The good news is that Formspring now has the ability to block and report any post along with Facebook, which is where a lot of cyberbullying has occurred in the past.
Your goal is to be your child’s advocate, provide solid and relatable advice, and to successfully manage their situation head-on. This will also help avoid future situations from becoming a one-click nightmare. Remember, success for your child doesn’t include defending their point of view, becoming BFF’s with the bully, or using revenge. Success means getting the bullies to stop what they’re doing to your child.
Step 2: Don’t Jump in the Ring
As much as you want to put on your boxing gloves to defend your child, don’t do it. Should the thought of retaliation come to mind, do not take action! It’s not uncommon for parents to take matters into their own hands by impersonating their child on their social network or by circulating vilifying e-mails around the “parent network” about another child. This will only make matters worse for your child in the long run. Instead, take off the gloves and help guide your child through the strategic plan you just developed together in step one.
Step 3: Standing by Isn’t Acceptable: Snitching vs. Reporting
Witnessing cruel kids attack their prey on social networks is a daily occurrence for most of today’s teens. The bad news is that most bystanders don’t report what they see because they don’t think it’s a big deal, don’t take the attack seriously, or don’t want to “snitch” for fear of becoming the new target of a cyberbully. Counsel your child about the difference between snitching (telling to get someone in trouble) and reporting (telling to solve a problem, or protect the innocent). In order to eliminate cyberbullying from destroying our kids, it’s imperative that the bystanders become up-standers, and start protecting one another, and it’s a parent’s job to drive this message home.
Step 4: If the Cyberbullying Doesn’t Stop, Get More Help
For bullying situations that occur or continue to occur at school, set up a meeting with your child’s school counselor, administrator, or teacher for both you and your child. Let your child lead the meeting and only step in when necessary. Your goal is to get the bullying to stop, not to worry about what the school is going to do to punish the bully. Put together an action plan and “next steps” should the bullying continue. Be sure to insist on confidentiality for your child, otherwise your meeting will backfire and add fuel to the fire.
If your child is being physically threatened online, in texts, or in person, strongly consider contacting your local police department. I know you’re probably shaking your head at this one, but you’ve got to take physical threats and stalking situations that occur via social media as serious as those that occur in person. The police certainly do, so why shouldn’t you? Print all posts, pictures and information that are relative to your child’s assaults and save as evidence. A child is never going to volunteer to go to the police, no matter how desperate they feel. This is when an adult needs to take control and get help immediately.
Step 5: Don’t Be Naïve
After the recent suicides of Jaime Rodemeyer and Phoebe Prince, it’s no longer acceptable to be naïve when it comes to teens and how they use technology. If you’re a parent or guardian, it’s up to you to get up to speed and start parenting around technology to protect your children from the negative and long-lasting effects that cyberbullying causes.
Being the victim of a cyberbullying can be traumatic and humiliating for children and teenagers. As a society, we need to find better ways to help our children through their most difficult years, which is what the Great American NO BULL Challenge is all about. he sooner children realize that bullies do not define who they are, the sooner they will realize their true potential for greatness.