Bullies have been around for ages. But with social media, they have a bigger
playing field. For today’s children, cyber-bullying is a real threat
that can have serious mental and physical health consequences.
“Many parents don’t know what to do because social media is
such a huge part of young peoples’ lives,” says
Ashraf Ismail, MD, medical director of emergency room psychiatry at
St. Joseph Hospital, Orange. “Telling a young person to stay off social media probably won’t
work. Instead, you have to have your child’s confidence so that
he or she will come to you when there’s a problem and work with
you to keep the harmful elements at bay.”
What exactly is cyber bullying? It’s more than just someone spreading
unfavorable messages about another. Some cyber bullies stalk their victims,
sending personal, targeted messages with the intention of scaring them.
Others intentionally exclude someone from a group and torment them after
they’re left out. Still, others pose as someone else to damage their
There are far too many
tragic instances where teens who have harmed themselves or even committed suicide
may have been influenced by cyberbullying inflicted on them via the internet and social media. If you’re the
parent of a teen, talk with them today about suicide and mental health.
Learn how to navigate this sensitive but vital conversation.
It’s not always easy to tell if your child is being cyber-bullied
because although some will suddenly drop off social media, many will stay
active online, trying to reach out to friends or respond to the bully.
However, a child who is being bullied
tends to show signs of stress, aloofness or depression. He or she can also begin falling behind
in school work and grades start to suffer.
If your child lets you know they’re being bullied or you suspect
it’s happening, don’t let the problem fester. Continued bullying
will affect your child’s mental –and possibly physical –health.
Take these steps to make sure bullying stops:
Talk about the situation. Listen and support your child, understanding his or her concerns. A child
may feel guilty about responding to an inappropriate message in a manner
he or she knows is inappropriate. Don’t be quick to judge, but talk
it out and help to find better solutions.
Understand what is happening. Ask your child to describe how and when the bullying happens and who is
doing it. Assure your child that you’re going to develop a solution
together rather than retaliating by yourself.
Formulate a sensible response. Fighting back against a bully rarely helps. Instead, develop a strategy
in which your child tells the bully to leave him alone, virtually "walks
away" from the bully, or has a teacher or coach step in. Also offer
help in blocking the bully on the phone and social media.
Encourage safe use of social media. Make sure your child isn’t venturing onto unsafe sites or corresponding
Develop family rules for safe use of electronic devices.
Develop trust and get passwords. Ask your child his or her social media passwords so you can monitor activities.
Make it understood that this is for safety reasons, not a breach of privacy.
Don’t just take away devices, but find a way to encourage safe activity together.
You’ll also need to
take action with others to ensure the bullying stops. Report cyber bullying to your child’s school or coach. If your
child has been physically attacked or you feel there is imminent physical
harm, talk to school officials and call the police. You should also find
out if your child’s school has an anti-bullying policy and, if there
isn’t one, insist that a policy is established.
“Some parents might be inclined to just let the situation work itself
out and not get involved,” says Dr Ismail. “But we now know
that bullying is a serious and dangerous situation. Putting an end to
cyber-bullying helps everyone in a community. By addressing the problem
early, you will assist your child and others who are or could just easily
Have you had a positive experience preventing or stopping a cyber-bullying
incident? Share a comment below.
This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical
care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.