Repairing the Damage: Helping Your Child Overcome Mobile Bullying

by Dr. Charles Sophy

Filed Under: Cyber Bullying

  • I t's amazing how elements of our regular, "brick and mortar" world have striking parallels in today's digital age. From dating to shopping to daily communications, mobile phones allow us to do everything we used to do, but just a lot faster and with anytime/anywhere access.

  • Unfortunately, bullying and other hurtful behaviors have also migrated to digital platforms.

    Kids today can engage in cyberbullying, sexting and other mobile misuses in just a few seconds and keystrokes. The damage, however, is not limited to the bystanders of a schoolyard tussle as in the past. Now, hundreds if not thousands of people can be privy to an embarrassing moment or mean-spirited joke. This is the danger of the connectivity of mobile phones and the Internet, and the effects on children can be devastating.

  • It's Everywhere and We're Hearing More About It

    The effects of cyberbullying are pervasive. It gives the victim the ability to read insults or watch embarrassing moments over and over. Within seconds, a teenager can be humiliated in front of the entire student body with one simple text message. Sometimes, the shame is even more widespread, and the consequences even more tragic.

    In September 2010, a freshman at Rutgers University in New Jersey committed suicide after his roommate streamed live footage over the Internet of the 18-year-old having a sexual encounter with another man.

    In March 2010, a 15-year old 9th grade boy in Florida was engaged in a heated text conversation with an 8th grade girl. The boy found the girl and viciously beat her, sending her into an induced coma, with part of her skull removed to reduce cranial swelling. Until the altercation, neither had met face-to-face.

    Tragic, appalling incidents such as these underscore the seriousness of cyberbullying. It is a very real yet silent type of bullying with deep, dark and deadly ramifications. Because it can be anonymous or done completely without person-to-person contact, no face or emotion is associated with the victim. Thus, the perpetrator does not experience the guilt or shame - the kind that manifests when we see someone crying or in pain - that can curtail old-fashioned bullying.

    Without this human connection, cyberbullying can go unchecked and result in tremendous psychological, emotional and even physical harm that's well beyond what anyone intended or is comfortable with.

  • What You Can Do If Your Child Has Been a Victim

    We never want to see our child bullied, but if it occurs, you can help limit the damage and support the healing.

  • Give them a safe place to talk about it.
  • Children should know that they can reach out to an adult (a parent, guardian, relative, teacher, or anyone else who is trustworthy and responsible) to discuss experiences and feelings. Cyberbullying oftentimes results in embarrassment or outright humiliation. As a result, kids can be reluctant to share such experiences, relive those painful moments and show further vulnerability. It is imperative that they have an adult they trust and a safe place to talk about such incidents, and to talk about it for as long and frequently as they want.

  • Validate your kids.
  • Fundamentally, kids need to know that nothing that affects them is unimportant, especially if it is generating emotions. If something doesn't feel right, then it is not right and should be handled appropriately.

  • Don't respond via mobile means.
  • Let your kids know that they should not respond directly to a bully, especially over email or texts. Messages in this faceless context can be misinterpreted or prolong the situation, and the bullying easily can escalate into something more dangerous. You can, however, block bullies from phones, email and social-network accounts, so that hurtful messages don't make it through the filter.

  • Contact teachers and school authorities.
  • If the bully is a schoolmate, teachers and school administrators can help resolve the situation. These adults also might be able to contact the bully's parents from a neutral position and not as the upset parent of a victim. With the escalation in bullying, more and more schools are adopting formal positions on the topic and how to handle it.

  • Remove the "sissy" quotient.
  • Many kids are hesitant to talk about bullies because they don't want to be a "narc" or to be viewed as a "sissy" who is running for help. Let your kids know that this viewpoint is far from the truth. If a child can stand up to a bully with confidence and self-respect, and with the help of responsible adults, it is actually an act of bravery. It is also a way to stop a bully from hurting others and set an example for others who might be harmed in the future. Not saying anything and letting the hurtful behavior continue is not cool; it's cowardice.

  • Know the lingo.
  • If you're trying to ascertain if your child has been a victim of cyberbullying, you'll need to know what all of those texting abbreviations and codes really mean. You can visit www.LGDTXTR.com for a complete glossary of texting terms.

  • Document the occurrences.
  • Parents should document and record all instances of bullying. If the bullying turns into a physical altercation, a detailed history of the perpetrator's behavior will help the police, school officials and other authorities evaluate the situation.

  • Additionally, parents must be very clear about their own perspectives on bullying. We must observe and understand how we handle our own feelings of anger, anxiety and frustration, and make sure we are addressing our child's situation and not our own reaction to it.

    Along these same lines, parents must be able to let things go. Remember that many of the volatile day-to-day issues your children face usually dissipate rather quickly. For parents, however, the anger and unsettled emotions may linger. When your child has the ability to let go and move on, you must also do the same. If you continue with negative emotions and a struggle for power, you are teaching your kids the behaviors that lead to bullying and victimization.

    Lastly, if your child has been a victim of bullying, do something to rebuild their confidence. Being bullied is embarrassing and a big hit to one's self-esteem. It is during these tough times that kids need to be reminded of their strengths and, overall, how great they truly are. Take your child to a ballgame, out for a healthy treat, or engage in an activity where he or she excels. The better kids feel about themselves, the more confidence they'll have and the more equipped they'll be to handle cyberbullying.

Filed Under: Cyber Bullying

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Charles Sophy

Dr. Charles SophyAs a psychiatrist specializing in Adult, Child & Adolescent Psychiatry and Family Practice, Dr. Sophy currently serves as the Medical Director for the Los Angeles County Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS).

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