What is cyber-bullying?
As the mom of three teen girls, I’ve had to navigate our fair share of “mean girls” and various forms of bullying. The first time I felt a need to step in was when my oldest was in the 5th grade and that was when I learned a hard lesson of parenting: Unless there’s significant harm (mentally or physically) being done, you’re better off being a coach on the sidelines than the quarterback trying to win the game.
7th grade brought the next significant round of bullying and mean girls and this was the year that I was in the Principal’s office more times than I cared for. 8th grade was pretty quiet and just when I thought I could breathe a sigh of relief, along came the 9th grade and High School – which opened up a whole new can of challenges (what is it with the every 2 years pattern??). As my friend Jon Lowder warned me, going from Middle to High is like going from an AAA farm league to the Major Leagues.
None of the stuff I’ve encountered with any of my girls has been overtly bad.. more of the PITA (pain in the ass) variety. Nasty tweets, snarky comments, and texts.. pretty textbook stuff. The only difference between what you and I had to deal with and what she and her friends have to deal with is that it’s done electronically as opposed to in person or with pen and paper.
So what is the actual definition of cyber-bullying? According to Goggle it is the use of electronic communication to bully a person, typically by sending messages of an intimidating or threatening nature. )If you want to read the entire NC statute, click here. )
All of the schools in our area preach that they have a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to bullying and I’ve been pretty pleased with how they’ve handled situations if it got to that level. While the schools and parents may take a strong stand on cyber-bullying, unfortunately, our judicial system has a more difficult time prosecuting anyone should it get to that point. If they were to bring them thru the system and IF they were to be tried, they’d be tried as juveniles and most likely be given nothing more than a slap on the wrist. We have a friend who did take another kid and their family to court for this kind of abuse and at the end of it all, the other kid was mandated to write an apology letter. Pretty expensive apology letter, I’d say.
This past weekend we had a situation pop up that made me actually call a friend of the family who’s in law enforcement just to validate that what I was doing was the right approach. He confirmed that I was but as a parent, you can’t run to the school every time one of their friends gets snarky and sends out a nasty tweet or text, so what do you do?
I’m no expert on the law, but here are a few things I’ve learned along the way that hopefully will help you AND your kids to cope…
1) Keep a diligent eye everywhere but for the most part, do it from the sidelines. Trust me.. it is SO hard for me to read the texts and the tweets that come across and literally biting my tongue and resisting the urge to rip off a few well-phrased tweets myself.
2) You don’t have to follow the kids in question (i.e. bullies) on Twitter, but you can create a private list and put them on there without following them. The next best option is to keep a list and just check in on them if you think there’s an issue. (For the most part, their everyday tweets are just typical teen bantering that bores me to tears.)
3) It never hurts to alert the school if they’re getting harassing texts or any other kind of electronic communication.
4) It’s been my experience that kids will withhold this kind of information until it’s reached an almost critical point, so make sure you listen when they come to you. This is not the time to tell them “just a minute”.. this could be your one and only shot at having them open up. Don’t blow it. Listen to what they’re telling you and even if it seems a bit over the top, I promise if there’s smoke, there’s fire.
5) If there IS an issue make sure you educate your kid on taking screenshots and that they send them to you. This will be helpful if you choose to send it to the school or address it with the parents.
6) Understand that you may have to admit that your kid has an involvement. I’ve yet to go thru one of these situations and think that my girls were 100% innocent. It takes two to tango, friends.
7) Educate your kids that while it’s really, really hard to do it, the best course is just to ignore it. Don’t engage, don’t respond, don’t react. They’ll still do it but if you repeat this often enough, they’ll get better at doing it at least a little bit.
8) If and when it gets really bad, do what you have to do. Involve the school, involve the parents, involve the authorities. At the end of the day, it’s better to be overprotective than under.
The one thing that blows my mind about this group of kids is that they have some major cajones. They think nothing can stop them. I’ve seen texts where one kid proclaimed that “because his dad was rich, he’d make sure that M and her friends would never go to college”. I know you’re dying to know what my response to that was… I pulled a Dr. Huxtable and told M “he doesn’t have money. His DAD may have money, but this kid’s like you.. broke”.
I’ve never said this phase was easy but my hope is that I can at least prepare you for what’s to come so you’re ready to handle it as best as possible. Don’t worry – we’ll all survive!
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A version of this post originally appeared on my personal site.