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Modern Parenthood

Addressing cyberbullying: Offering support may help more than taking control

When kids report incidents of cyberbullying, parents might do well to dig deeper into the situation and try to avoid reacting reflexively.

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“As a parent,” said author, educator, and parent Rosalind Wiseman, “what I want you to say to your child is [something like], ‘I’m so sorry this happened to you; thank you so much for coming and telling me’ … because your kid is taking a risk to tell you about this. Most of the time they think that going to an adult will make it worse. Then you say, ‘and together we’re going to work on this, we are going to think through how we can do this so you can feel that you’ve got some control over a situation where your control has been taken away from you.”

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Wiseman said that in a 2010 podcast by her fellow author, educator, and parent Annie Fox (see this).

That self-harm in Web sites might be about loss of control too is borne out in an interesting comment by user “quinn” below Boyd’s post, someone who sounds like he knows what he’s writing about: “It might have something to do with self-criticism as defense measure: [as in] ‘if I’ve already said everything horrible that can be said, no one can use those things to hurt me’ – a teenage version of ‘you can’t fire me, I quit’.”

Listening can lead to healing

Young people themselves say being listened to helps.

A milestone survey by the “Youth Voice Project” in 2010 found that students who’ve been targeted by bullying feel what helps most is to be heard and acknowledged, by peers or adults.

The three responses “likely to lead to things getting better for the [targeted] student than to things getting worse” were “listened to me,” “gave me advice,” and “checked in with me afterwards to see if the behavior stopped.” Coming in at a notably distant 4th, interestingly, was “kept up increased adult supervision for some time.”

From peers, the top three were “Spent time with me,” “Talked to me,” and “Helped me get away.”

The study’s authors, Charisse Nixon and Stan Davis, wrote that “positive peer actions were strikingly more likely to be rated more helpful than were positive self actions or positive adult actions.”

When our children are suffering, we naturally want to stop the hurt as fast as possible, and so we want to reject complexity and find quick fixes or formulaic solutions. The thing is, though, there is no formula – every digital harassment case is as individual as the people involved – and to slow down and listen, rather than act reflexively, may actually be the fix, or a big part of it. If not, it’s what children are asking for, and at the very least it demonstrates our respect for them and helps them process what happened, learn from it, and regain the sense of dignity they lost.

Maybe that’s why they want to be heard.

The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best family and parenting bloggers out there. Our contributing and guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor, and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. Anne Collier blogs at Net Family News.

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