Q. My 13-year-old daughter is being cyberbullied. During the school year, she made a couple of girls angry over a boy, and now the bullying won’t stop. In the last few messages, one girl threatened to “beat her up” or “take her out.” Even though it is summer, she sees these girls around our community. Now she doesn’t want to go anywhere. What can I do?
A. Bullying has been around for centuries, but cyberbullying is a fairly new phenomena. Often adults do not understand the seriousness of the problem or the emotional impact the words or threats can have on teens. Your daughter is showing some of the typical signs of cyberbullying including withdrawing from activities, avoiding group gatherings, and changes in mood.
The first action you should take is to be certain that your daughter is safe. Read the messages to ascertain the level of threat. Block everyone who has been involved in the conversations, and be certain that your daughter has not responded with equally threatening messages.
Keep a copy of each message, the date it was sent, and the circumstances. Since your daughter was physically threatened, you should contact the Internet service provider, so they can investigate the issue and remove offensive material. Depending on the severity of the messages, they may also suspend the service of the cyberbullies.
You should also contact your local police department. They should be aware should the situation escalate. Many teens will stop this nonsense when the police become involved.
Most resources on cyberbulling suggest that one does not contact the parents of the offenders. However, if you live in a small community and know the other families, it is my professional opinion that you should make the parents aware of their children’s actions. Most adults know that cyberbullying is not just a childish prank, but can lead to serious consequences.
The website “stopbullying.gov” provides valuable information for parents and school officials. It is funded by the government and managed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
Q. I always thought my son was the model kid. He’s into sports, church, and makes decent grades. Recently I saw his Facebook page and found some objectionable material and some unsavory comments about girls in his class. What should I do?
A. The first thing you should do is to confront your son with his behavior. You should stress that you are disappointed in him and his lack of maturity. Inform him that everything on his Facebook page is now public record. His teachers, school administrators, future employers, and the police have easy access to his Facebook page even if he thinks they do not. Many high schools and colleges will suspend students for inappropriate material or threats placed through social media. As a psychologist, I recently was called to consult on such a case.
It is important that you monitor your son’s online activity as much as possible. You can ask him to friend you on Facebook or friend a family member who can make you aware of his activity. If this seems too invasive, you can limit his time on-line at home and not allow him to use his cell phone after a certain hour at night. Some parents suspend on-line accounts or do not allow usage for a period of time following such immature behavior.
The most important action you can take to stop him from bullying is to teach and reinforce positive morals and values. He must understand that it is not “just in fun” to harass or belittle others, but that every person should be treated with dignity and respect. Be certain that as parents you also follow these rules and set a good example for your son.
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Nancy Ryburn holds a doctorate degree in psychology from Yeshiva University in New York City where she maintained a private practice. She now teaches psychology at Southeast Arkansas College. E-mail your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. The questions will not be answered personally, but could appear in a future column. There will be no identifying information and all e-mails remain confidential