Bullying: Online and Off

A Guide for Parents of Tweens and Teens

By Mia Freund Walker, LCSW

BULLYING TODAY:

Bullying has become a bit more complicated to identify and navigate due to the central role technology plays in our children’s lives. Thanks to smartphones, teens and tweens are able to connect with each other 24/7. As a result, traditional bullying behavior that might start at school, doesn’t end when the final bell rings. Teens and tweens who are bullied often feel like there is no safe place to go– and social media amplifies big and painful feelings.

WARNING SIGNS:

Online bullying takes place over devices like phones, tablets and computers. It can happen over texting, social media, gaming, or any platform where people can view, participate or share content. It involves repeatedly sending, posting or sharing negative, harmful or cruel content about someone else on purpose. It can include sharing private information about someone else to cause embarrassment or humiliation. It can include repeated deliberate attempts to exclude, in an effort to socially isolate someone else.

WHO IS AT RISK:

Whether we like it or not, social media is social currency for adolescents, and it is a primary tool for connections and possibilities. Recent studies indicate that youth at the highest risk are those who care most about their social networks and online communities. – almost at the exclusion of everything else. These are the teens and tweens whose emotions can become inextricably linked to the expectations that come from positive or negative online feedback. If you notice that this fits your child’s profile, it’s a clue that you might need to set some limits around access to social media and online content.

WHEN TO INTERVENE:

  • There’s a difference between developmentally appropriate conflict and bullying. If your teen is sad that she wasn’t invited to a party she saw on Instagram, this is an opportunity to give her tools to manage the disappointment, it doesn’t indicate that she has been bullied. Social injury is a necessary part of growing up.
  • Bullying, on the other hand, is repeated one-way aggressive behavior against someone who does not have the confidence or social capital to defend himself. If you notice any of the warning signs, this might be a clue that your teen needs a a safe environment to share what is happening online or at school, without judgement or shame. You can then determine if it is bullying and take the appropriate action with your teen’s school, other parents, or in some cases, law enforcement.
  • If your child is struggling with interpersonal conflict online or off, you can provide support and strategies to resolve the conflict –and then step aside to let your child figure it out on their own. Conflict is unavoidable and necessary.
  • Bullying can happen when teens and tweens lack the impulse control to stop and think before they press “send”. As parents we can give them tools and strategies to cultivate empathy and awareness about how their words and actions might impact someone else.
  • Remind your teen or tween that if they see something that looks like bullying –they need to say something and do something, like tell an adult. They can choose to be an upstander not a bystander!
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