Learning that your kid is a victim of cyberbullying may leave you feeling helpless and defensive. Those are natural responses. It might also make you feel like the worst parent in the world.
Now imagine you’re the parent of the cyberbully.
Are you still feeling helpless? Defensive? Angry? Or worse, are you in denial?
If you still feel like the worst parent in the world, you’re not.
As a member of the National Communication Association’s Anti-Bullying Task Force, I have been working to identify strategies and tools to curb bullying behaviors – in schools, in the workplace and online.
You can access these tools in the NCA Anti-Bullying Resource Bank.
While much of the attention has been focused on assisting cyberbullying victims and their parents, many researchers and practitioners continue to discover avenues for preventing these kinds of attacks.
What we know is that healing the cyberbully is just as important as healing his or her victims.
Healing the cyberbully, in essence, is one of the primary tools for preventing the next cyberbullying attack.
Below are general steps to follow when talking to your kid, but note that you’ll find extensive resources online. Do just a few minutes of research and you’ll find additional answers:
1. Who hurt you? Knowing what led to this moment is often the most difficult part of the process, because it requires revelations of pent up pain and anger in your child.
Also note it’s not unusual to learn that your cyberbully was once a cyberbullying victim.
In a quiet space, free from distractions, talk about what led to this moment. What was the motivation? Is your child hurt?
Discussions with your child may have already transpired with school officials and others. You may be the last person to know what has happened, but you might be the first to learn why.
Regardless of how angry and disappointed you feel in that moment, you need to be the safe space for your child to share. Ask your child questions, but with a sense of curiosity rather than blame.
2. Restrict internet access. Consequences are important, but don’t assume that simply because you’ve taken away the smartphone that the bullying will stop. Kids connect with friends through gaming consoles, laptops, televisions and other “smart” devices.
Have a discussion with your child about trust. Together, create a road map for slowly earning back those privileges and, more importantly, your trust.
3. Get help. Remember that your child may have been bullying others for a long period of time. Depending on the extent of cyberbullying cases and those involved (e.g., school officials, police), you may need assistance from professionals.
Don’t beat yourself up, but do your homework. Seek out guidance counselors and request referrals for therapists with a history of helping cyberbullies.
Dr. Adam C. Earnheardt is professor and chair of the department of communication at Youngstown State University in Youngstown, OH, USA. He researches and writes about communication and relationships, parenting and sports. He writes a weekly column for The Vindicator newspaper on social media and society.