Stepping in When Your Teen is Cyberbullied

Parents have seen the national news story about a recent teen suicide in Houston resulting directly from brutal cyberbullying, and now those parents are left with questions about how to monitor their teens’ online safety, and how to intervene in case their child is victimized.

When our teens go online, they enter a private world, hidden away from watchful adult eyes. They sit across the table staring down at a device, and parents have no idea what’s on that screen. Often it’s an inbox message, a conversation shared between friends. Or perhaps it’s a meme, a bit of humor for a chuckle. However, a parent sitting across the table would have no way of knowing if that screen contained vicious personal insults or attacks. The screen might read, “Everybody hates you,” or “Go kill yourself.” 

A parent’s first lines of defense when it comes to cyberbullying are open conversations with teens and direct monitoring of their social media content. If you don’t see what your kids are seeing and doing online and they don’t talk to you about it, how can you possibly help if they are in over their heads? Another window into online problems is a strong relationship with your teen’s circle of friends. Many times a concerned peer is the one to alert adults about a problem online.

What do you do if you find out your teen is being bullied on social media?

Report it.
    Contact the school if the bullying is connected to anyone at your teen’s school. Tell officials what is happening, ask for advice, and specifically request that your school’s code of conduct include disciplinary language with regard to cyberbullying behavior. Request that the student or students who cyberbullied your teen be disciplined and that their parents be brought in by the school officials to oversee online behavior. 
    Block and report to the platform. If your child is being targeted on Snapchat, notify Snapchat of the activity. Social media platforms have policies to protect their teen users. The bullies may lose access to their accounts. (But be cautious here, it’s easy to open a new account under a different name on most platforms, so blocking and reporting may not be enough).

Talk about it.
    Talk openly with your teen, and talk openly in your parenting community about how cyberbullying sneaks in right under the noses of caring parents. Raise awareness and gain support, while opening up a discussion in your home and in your community. Don’t let the conversation shut down, and if necessary, find professional to help you keep talking.

Ask key questions.
    If you know your teen is having conflict on social media or elsewhere online, ask for specifics. Is this a person you know? What exactly did they say? Is this one incident, or an ongoing pattern? Is this one person, or a group? Are you in over your head, and do you need my help? 

Restrict access to the medium.
    Even when your teen objects, sometimes taking away social media can be the safest choice. I advise parents in clinic that when things are spinning out of control, teens need parents to make their world small again. Return to a simple, straightforward lifestyle. Turn off technology and head down to the park for a walk. Back away from the flurry of peer interactions, and spend time with family instead. Turn off the TV and the smart phone, and just hang out in the house, play a board game or read a book. Get back to basics for a while. 
    In cases where cyberbullying has turned into a serious crisis for a teen, most parents say they wished they had restricted access, but at the time it felt impossible. Even though teens are overwhelmed by aspects of their social media lives, they have positive experiences on social media and they fear missing out if they exit the group. Teens will fight when parents threaten to take away social media. As hard as it may be take away social media, I have yet to meet a parent who regretted the choice in the end. Stepping out of the activity is usually a key step in regaining control.

Go to counseling together
    Cyberbullying is distressing and it’s dangerous. If your teen is in trouble and won’t talk to you, seek help from a qualified counseling professional with experience in cyberbullying. 

Posted on December 5, 2016 .