Ask A Teacher (Parent Edition): My child is being cyberbullied. I told them to not go on social media. Is this the right thing?

parent ed

Not really.

I can understand your desire to protect your child – after all, if they’re being bullied on social media, the problem is solved if they don’t have social media, right?

Except, it doesn’t protect them, or stop the bullying: The only thing this achieves is that you effectively dismiss your child’s concerns about being bullied because you haven’t taken the time to a) understand cyberbullying, and how insidious it is and can be, b) ignoring the fact that you’re further punishing your own child for the acts of others, and c) not addressing the actual problem, which I guarantee isn’t limited to social media: The fact that your child is being bullied.

I’m not trying to be harsh: I understand that you want what is best for your child, and you want to remove the thing that’s causing them pain. It’s understandable, and a knee-jerk reaction.

The problem isn’t that you care enough – you clearly do – it’s about understanding what your child is experiencing and properly listening to them, because chances are, they’re telling you a lot more than what their words are saying.

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Tell me: What emotions do you think Wilma (Natalie Wood) is displaying? There’s a smile, but does it seem like a real smile? Or does it seem like a smile of pain? A smile of anger? A smile of both? Think about how much you can tell from those few sentences, and that short gif, and then tell me you can’t do the same for your own child. PC: Natalie Wood, Splendour In The Grass (1961)

Sidebar: Think of it this way. Remember that time you had to tell someone something difficult? Painful? Something that caused you anxiety and fear to express? Something you weren’t sure how the other person was going to react? Something where you don’t know what will happen in the end? Maybe it’s confronting someone about a lie they told; maybe it’s something about you and you’re terrified about the other person’s response for whatever reason. Now that you’ve got a specific moment in your mind, think back: What didn’t you immediately say, as you braced yourself for the other person’s response? What did you omit depending on the person’s reaction? If they reacted favourably, how did you open up and respond? Think directly about the other person’s reaction and how it contributed to whether you opened up further or didn’t. Think directly about the other person’s reaction and whether it made you more or less reluctant to confide in them. Think directly about the other person’s reaction, and what you wished they’d seen and heard, and if they did see that you wanted to tell them more, how they allowed you to do so. If your child comes to you saying they’re being cyberbullied, are you allowing them to share more information (in their own time) with you? Are you giving them the opportunity to come to you? Or is your behaviour dismissive?

Remember, dismissive behaviour also doesn’t mean that the person doesn’t care: Sometimes it means they don’t know what to do or what to say, or more likely, aren’t paying attention to what you aren’t saying, so they don’t realise the significance of your confession.

So now that we’ve established that your behaviour might be dismissive to your child, and that that doesn’t make you a bad person and nor is it a personal attack on you, what should you do?

  1. Pay attention to their non-verbal cues. What is your child not saying to you?
  2. Make sure your children know they can come to you. Don’t belittle them or chastise them for not confiding in you. Why should anyone trust to confide in someone who is forcing themselves to do so?
  3. Ask them about school
  4. Talk about their friends, and who they think they can turn to – it may be painful for you, but your child needs people outside of you.  They need friends that they can turn to, separate from you
  5. If the bullying is related to an incident, encourage your child to confide in you about what happened, why, and how it’s making them feel. Unless it’s a criminal-related offence, if your child asks you to respect their privacy, do so. Don’t immediately call up Billy Bob’s mum because you can destroy your child’s trust in you. They are opening up to you, and are asking you to respect their confidence and privacy. If you immediately violate that trust, they are less likely to open to you in the future.
  6. If the bullying is related to an incident, do try and work on a potential plan with your child, to establish both short and long-term solutions
  7. If the bullying is not related to an incident, and your child does not understand why they’re being bullied, empathise with them. Sometimes kids are bullied for no reason: They are the ‘weaker’ link, the one that everyone targets, regardless of your child’s beauty, strength and intelligence. Imagine how overwhelming and consuming that idea would be – to be hated and to even understand what you’ve ever done to deserve such vile abuse. Remember that there is a significant difference between someone not wanting to spend time with you/not really liking you, and being actively cruel to illustrate just how much they hate you.
  8. If they’re being hated for no discernible reason, please try and encourage them to see an outside therapist if that is something within your budget. In Australia, in many regional and remote places, you can see a therapist incredibly cheaply on a mental health plan issued by a GP. I am not sure what subsidiaries are offered in cities, but it never hurts to enquire.
  9. Do not say “Not everyone will like you in life” if your child is actively being bullied. While that’s a very accurate statement, there’s a big difference to “not being liked” and being actively targeted by hate and ongoing abuse. I know I’ve said it a million times before, but people like K and Belle not wanting to be my friends wasn’t the problem (though when someone you love and care for doesn’t want to be your friend, that does hurt like a bitch, but that’s not what I mean). The problem was all the on-going bullying, gaslighting, and manipulation. With both women, I didn’t know where I stood. Every time I thought “Ok, I’m going to move away, you clearly don’t like me”, I’d be suckered in again with their reminders of the past, and I’d think, “Oh, I’m fucking crazy. They obviously like me just fine. It’s all in my head.” I’d then get excited, obviously, and then they’d back away, leaving me more confused, because every time I would try and place distance, they’d seem to come back. My point? There’s a huge difference between the two. One hurts like a bitch, and might knock your child (or adult friend) around for a bit. The other is someone deliberately and intentionally trying to hurt your child. If it’s on-going, it can be life-threatening.
  10. Remember that suicide is the third-leading cause of death in someone between the ages of 15-24. That’s a pretty big fucking leading COD.
  11. Remember that depression is a serious mental health condition that takes the lives of people every year. You don’t treat people with cancer like ‘just get better’ and ‘it’s only stage three, you probs won’t die’, so don’t treat people who are likely to die from their mental illness any differently. It fucking takes lives. What more do you fuckers want?
  12. Make sure your child’s needs are met to the best of your ability. This includes making sure they feel safe and loved. If you need to change schools, or believe changing schools could be beneficial, raise this as a conversation with your child. Get their opinions and impressions and actively listen to them. A lot of parents don’t want to change schools because of the cost, but do consider: Is the cost worth your child’s life? Consider alternatives.
  13. Teach your child how to block, mute and hide conversations on their social media. Discuss different names.
  14. Tell your child that it’s okay to remove mutual friends that are potentially a trigger to your child’s bullying. This doesn’t mean the mutual friends are ‘bad’. It just means that, in small settings where you may have a large portion of mutual friends, your child might become exposed to information they don’t want to know or can’t handle. Sometimes, removing mutual friends is the best thing – but again, make it a conversation with your kid.
  15. Make copies and take screenshots of what is being said, in case legal action is needed.

Unfortunately, technology and social media is moving faster than our legal system; but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t legal avenues for you to explore. It’s also easier having the evidence already, instead of struggling to obtain it after you’ve already tried to remove it.

But really, at the end of the day, the best thing you can do is listen to your child, give appropriate advice when/where/if needed, and make sure you are actively there for your child.

Here are some quick facts about bullying you need to know:

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In Emergencies: 000

Lifeline Australia: 13 11 14

1800 RESPECT

MensLine Australia: 1300 78 99 78

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— Sources —

Background

Bachelor of Education: English and History

Diploma in Criminology and Profiling

Diploma in Forensic Science

Background in law and psychology

Teacher 7+ years

Background in special needs, learning support – other specific teaching fields that required hands-on development.

NB: This is a declaration of the background of my personal knowledge, collected over the years via a professional form of education and development. Some of these take the form of actual degrees and others come in the form of necessary professional development. When doing your own research, you should always try and verify the person’s credibility. My credibility, nor anyone else’s, is not with their education. Everyone has biases and no one is infallible. I am deliberately including some of my background education to highlight this, because you should be questioning the information you are receiving.

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