Cyberbullying and text threats - what parents need to know

What do Parents Need to Know About Cyber-bullying?

What is cyber-bullying?

If you’ve been around here for any amount of time, you may remember that we’ve had our fair share cyber bullyingof “mean girls” and various forms of bullying. The first time that I felt a need to step in was when M was in the 5th grade and that’s when I learned a hard lesson of parenting: Unless there’s significant harm being done, you’re better off being a coach on the sidelines than the quarterback trying to win the game.

7th grade brought the next significant round of bullying and mean girls and this was the year that I was in the Principal’s office more times than I cared for. 8th grade was pretty quiet and just when I thought I could breathe a sigh of relief, along came the 9th grade and High School. (What is it with the every 2 years pattern??) High School has opened up a whole new can of challenges. As my friend Jon Lowder warned me, going from Middle to High is like going from a AAA farm league to the Major Leagues.

None of the stuff we’ve encountered is overtly bad.. more of the PITA (pain in the ass) variety. Nasty tweets, snarky comments, bitchy texts.. pretty textbook stuff. The only difference between what you and I had to deal with and what she and her friends have to deal with is that it’s done electronically as opposed to in person or with pen and paper.

So what is the actual definition of cyber-bullying? According to Goggle it is the use of electronic communication to bully a person, typically by sending messages of an intimidating or threatening nature. )If you want to read the entire NC statute, click here. )

 

All of the schools in our area preach that they have a zero tolerance policy when it comes to bullying and I’ve been pretty pleased with how they’ve handled situations if it got to that level. While the schools and parents may take a strong stand on cyber-bullying, unfortunately our judicial system has a more difficult time prosecuting anyone should it get to that point. If they were to bring them thru the system and IF they were to be tried, they’d be tried as juveniles and most likely be given nothing more than a slap on the wrist. We have a friend who did take another kid and their family to court for this kind of abuse and at the end of it all, the other kid was mandated to write an apology letter. Pretty expensive apology letter, I’d say.

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This past weekend we had a situation pop up that made me actually call a friend of the family who’s in law enforcement just to validate that what I was doing was the right approach. He confirmed that I was but as a parent, you can’t run to the school every time someone gets pissy and sends out a nasty tweet so what do you do?

I’m no expert on the law, but here are a few things I’ve learned along the way.. 

1) Keep a diligent eye everywhere but for the most part, do it from the sidelines. Trust me.. it is SO hard for me to read the texts and the tweets that come across and literally biting my tongue and resisting the urge to rip off a few well phrased tweets.

2) You don’t have to follow the kids in question (i.e. bullies) on Twitter, but you can create a private list and put them on there without following them. The next best option is to keep a list and just check in on them if you think there’s an issue. (For the most part, their every day tweets are just typical teen bantering that bores me to tears.)

3) It never hurts to alert the school if they’re getting harassing texts or any other kind of electronic communication.

4) It’s been my experience that kids will withhold this kind of information until it’s reached an almost critical point, so make sure you listen when they come to you. This is not the time to tell them “just a minute”.. this could be your one and only shot at having them open up. Don’t blow it. Listen to what they’re telling you and even if it seems a bit over the top, I promise if there’s smoke, there’s fire.

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5) If there IS an issue make sure you educate your kid on taking screen shots and that they send them to you. This will be helpful if you choose to send it to the school or address it with the parents.

6) Understand that you may have to admit that your kid has an involvement. I’ve yet to go thru one of these situations and think that my girls were 100% innocent. It takes two to tango, friends.

7) Educate your kids that while it’s really, really hard to do it, the best course is just to ignore it. Don’t engage, don’t respond, don’t react. They’ll still do it but if you repeat this often enough, they’ll get better at doing it at least a little bit.

8) If and when it gets really bad, do what you have to do. Involve the school, involve the parents, involve the authorities. At the end of the day, it’s better to be overprotective than under.

The one thing that blows my mind about this group of kids is that they have some major cajones. They think nothing can stop them. I’ve seen texts where one kid proclaimed that “because his dad was rich, he’d make sure that M and her friends would never go to college”. I know you’re dying to know what my response to that was… I pulled a Dr. Huxtable and told M “he doesn’t have money. His DAD may have money, but this kid’s like you.. broke”.

I’ve never said this phase was easy but my hope is that I can at least prepare you for what’s to come so you’re ready to handle it as best as possible. Don’t worry – we’ll all survive!

 

Want to know what your kids are doing online? Sign up for one of my workshops and get the inside scoop as well as how to navigate it!

 

 

Comments

January 16, 2014 at 8:31 pm

You can actually follow your child’s Twitter timeline in real-time on TweetDeck. You can also follow their mentions and interactions. It’s a good way to monitor their feed if you don’t feel comfortable following them.



January 14, 2014 at 11:02 pm

Love your points here. I talk and talk and talk to my kids about this kind of thing, I worry about it every day. It is so hard to not jump in and take charge when I see something hurtful. It’s also hard not to micromanage the ridiculous (mostly) day to day stuff. I am glad you are one step ahead age-wise so I can see how you handle it.
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January 13, 2014 at 9:03 am

This was such a timely post for me. We just had an incident last week with our 9th grader. His “friends” sent text messages saying very inappropriate things about us — the parents. It was so tricky to figure out how to handle this one. Thank you for highlighting this ever-growing problem.
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    January 13, 2014 at 9:24 am

    OH! What did you do?? Yeah.. it’s hard enough biting your tongue when they talk bad about your kids but boy howdy is it hard not rip off a snippy comment when they’re talking about you. But sadly we must practice what we preach and ignore them.



January 8, 2014 at 1:51 pm

My kids complain about me demanding access to their online profiles but I am not willing to put my head in the ground here because like you said, by the time they ask me for help things are already nasty.
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January 8, 2014 at 9:17 am

Hello! We have just launched an awareness raising video on cyberbullying called: “Cyberbullying: there is a way out!”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dkG00Czb4ho
This is a video to help parents, teachers and teenagers to identify Cyberbullying, and to provide advice and tips for a way out. Would you help us to spread the word by sharing this video? Thanks!



January 8, 2014 at 12:36 am

I really want to just pull my kid in the house and homeschool her when she gets to High School and never let her see the light of day until she is 21.

I am SO glad you are sharing your hard earned ‘wisdom’ about this subject- because ALL of us will be dealing with it sooner or later…

Ugh. Hate it.
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January 7, 2014 at 7:34 pm

Absolutely fantastic post and a must read for all parents of teens! Cyberbullying is so important to know about.
For Bobby, 5th grade was the worst. (That’s when they move to middle school) Each year it’s gotten progressively better until this year which has been great. Now he goes to high school next year. I shudder to think that we may go backward. Blergh. Lucy goes into 5th grade and middle school next year. We’ve experienced asshole boys and now I guess we’ll have to see what mean girls have in store. I have a feeling girls might just be more vicious. 🙁
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    January 7, 2014 at 10:24 pm

    I think many parents tend to either be hyperactive or hyperclueless when it comes to this. There’s no in between. Talk to your kids. Know their friends. Know their enemies better. Exhausting by necessary.



hyacinth
January 7, 2014 at 3:17 pm

When people see you’re happy doing what you’re doing, it sort of takes the power away from them to tease you about it.You can find strength in numbers and you can beat the feeling that you are alone or that you deserve to have someone bully you by sharing your struggles with other people.Bullying consists of the least competent most aggressive employee projecting their incompetence on to the least aggressive most competent employee and winning. Keep safe don’t let your child be one of the victim bring protection with check this out at http://safekidzone.com/#!/page_home.Believe that life is worth living and your belief will help create the fact.



January 7, 2014 at 11:28 am

A great list of what you’ve learned. As a professional who has to investigate things like this, I’m happy to hear you say a few things – that your child isn’t always innocent and that you have to pay attention when they come to you. Indiana has a new bullying law that clearly defines bullying is when there’s 1) Harm on purpose 2) It’s repeated, overtime and unwanted 3) When there’s an imbalance of power.

By not answering texts, a teen shows the responses are unwanted. When they respond back, they are giving conversation back to the offender. It does take 2 to tango and as long as both are dancing, it has more chances to continue.



    January 7, 2014 at 10:29 pm

    Yes! But they think that if they don’t respond, they’re showing weakness and sadly, at this age that’s what their peers think. And that’s how they all think. M has one friend that we love so much because she has no time for the drama in her life and helps keep her a little bit more focused.



January 6, 2014 at 11:22 pm

Such an important topic. Thanks for writing about it. I do love my technology but I can’t imagine being in high school now with FB, Twitter, texting… so challenging!!
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January 6, 2014 at 7:01 pm

I am just amazed at what kids say and write on twitter. It seems to me that girls especially are mean. I have had many many talks with my kids about this subject.
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January 6, 2014 at 5:00 pm

Thanks for bringing attention to this issue! I have a long time (hopefully) before I have to tackle this with my son, but I hope I can be as logical as you are about it. My favorite point you made is about taking the time to listen. I think establishing that line of communication with adolescents is the first step in helping them to make good choices, whether it by cyber bullying or another conflict.
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January 6, 2014 at 2:26 pm

My oldest are boys and in high school too. So far, I’ve only had to have them delete Instagram pictures of their poop and one iffy tweet about ‘not wanting to go to work’. Girls have to be nastier than boys in this regard. I also have an introvert 13 year old girl in 8th grade without a phone and no desire to interact with her peers online. #blessed
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January 6, 2014 at 12:39 pm

Thanks for the heads up and the advice. As you know, I have three girls, too, but they are a little younger. We have dealt with some minor bullying, but not the cyber bullying kind – yet. I think these are good tips and hope I can remember when he time comes!
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