The picture of the white casket, too small for a child and too big for a full grown adult, is heartbreaking. You don’t have to read the words on the matching lime green shirts of the six pallbearers to know that there is something different, and tragic, about this funeral. The word “Bullying” is placed on the front, crossed out by the black circle and line through it that we use for scourges like smoking. It’s a universal symbol of unnecessary death.
Last month, 12-year-old Rebecca Sedwick committed suicide after being the victim of cyberbullying.
In Italy, a bullied 14-year-old girl committed suicide after she was taunted by a group of teenage boys on Facebook. Another 14-year-old girl, Eden Wromer, an eighth grader, hung herself a month earlier after being harassed by classmates in school and on the Internet. In 2008, Megan Meir, 13, committed suicide after being tormented by a fake Internet boyfriend who was actually, according to prosecutors, a parent trying to get back at her for some slight.
How do you protect your children from bullies when they are coming from everywhere?
First, you must understand what it is and how often it happens.
The National Crime Prevention Association defines cyberbullying as “when the Internet, cell phones or other devices are used to send or post text or images to hurt or embarrass another person.” This includes situations where people pretend to be others online, spread lies and rumors about the victims, trick people into revealing personal information, send or forward hostile text messages or post pictures of victims without their consent.
According to research from Florida Atlantic University and the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, cyber-bullying has increased with technology adoption in recent years and that 10 percent of middle schools report that they had been bullied in the past 30 days and 17 percent report being bullied in their lifetime. In studies of high school students those numbers jump to 14 percent in the past 30 days and 21 percent over their lifetime. There is a correlation, the researchers said, between the rate of cyberbullying and the age of the students. The researchers believe that is because children — both bullies and the bullied — have more access to technology as they become older.
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Rebecca’s mother says she felt like she tried everything, she told the school officials but felt they did not respond effectively. So she moved Rebecca to a new school. She also took measures to remove Rebecca from those who were terrorizing her online by taking down Rebecca’s Facebook page and taking away her cell phone. Once at the new school Rebecca seemed to be doing better. Her mother gave her a new cell phone number and Rebecca went back to social media. Rebecca started using new applications that her mother didn’t know about. When Rebecca’s mother went to search her phone to keep an eye on what was going on in Rebecca’s life, she didn’t know to check those applications. Rebecca’s suicide brings up questions about the social media aspect of bullying, but also what can the schools do better. Rebecca’s previous school says that they only received one complaint about traditional bullying so they had changed Rebecca’s school schedule and offered Rebecca an escort to classes, however Rebecca’s mother has said she never received the escort. This instance of cyberbullying leads to some questions of what could have been done differently in this instance.
Being a parent is hard.No one would deny that. It is no doubt made harder when children become teenagers and don’t always feel the need to cooperate with the rules you have set in place to keep them safe. It can be hard for teenagers to see that there are rules there for their own benefit and protection, and not meant to find ways to get them into trouble.
Bullying has moved beyond the big kid on the playground that steals lunch money to a name on a computer screen, and that name could be anybody. The fact that people no longer have to be seen face to face or even have their names on a post makes getting away with it that much easier. The key to protecting your children from these online bullies is communication.
A child needs to see their parents, and their home life, as safe, and secure. The best way to develop this feeling is through honest communication with the child. As a child starts to enter the world of smart phones and social media, keeping track of what your child is doing online may become harder. In the cases of cyber bullying the monitoring of your child’s online activities may be tempting and seem like the best methods of protecting your children from these outside threats. However, to a teenager who is trying to establish an identity for themselves and demands privacy to do so the monitoring of the social media accounts can seem like an intrusion into your child’s life. This intrusion in a child’s mind can seem like a lack of trust, when what you really need is to establish that trust. When a child feels their parents trust them they are more likely to feel as if they can approach their parents when they need help. A good way of establishing this trust is, when your child first establishes a social media account sit down and talk to them explaining what they are opening themselves up to and ask them to tell you if they ever see a situation of cyberbullying, even if it isn’t directed towards them. If they feel they can show you this when it happens to others, they are more likely to bring it to you when it is happening to them. And just opening a dialogue with your child and letting them know that you are there to talk to allows a child to feel safer sharing with their parents when they are in trouble.
Once a concern is shared by the teenager there are some key points that can be addressed. Here are some helpful hints on what can be done:
Have an open conversation about your child’s interactions both online and offline
Listen to the clues that you hear and pay attention to the ones that you see that suggest that your child might be having a hard time.
Teach your children that there is no shame in reaching out for help if someone or something is making them feel uncomfortable.
If you uncover cyberbullying, seek professional help if you think your child could benefit from talking to someone.
A child needs to understand that they have someone to support them, whether that support comes from their parents, their close friends, or a favorite teacher.
Parents need to know exactly what is happening in order to know the best methods of addressing it.
Parents can talk to your child’s teachers and the bullying prevention center at the school, ask them what they have seen and give them any and all evidence you and your child have collected about the bullying. When talking to your child’s school, advocate for a solution. Just because you have told them about the issue does not mean it will go away. Become a part of the discussion of finding a solution, and discuss the proposed solutions with your child. Your child better understands the dynamics of the school and will be able to tell you if that solution will help them or not. And once a solution is agreed upon follow up with your child, make sure they feel they are receiving the help and support that was agreed upon and that they feel it is helping.
Monitor the use of your child’s cell phone and social networks. Your children may be reluctant to share the details of what’s bothering them out of a fear of being seen as weak, by you or their classmates or teachers.
If you can’t figure it out, don’t let your child have access to it — this counts for cell phones, computers, gaming systems and any other place where there may be online communications.
Know who your kids are talking to. Don’t assume that there is a profile for cyberbully or victim.