By now most of us have heard about the rash of suicides committed in the last few weeks by “outed” teens around the country. I was moved by the statement (above) made by Ellen DeGeneres. In particular, I appreciated her words of wisdom and resources for anti-bullying programs.
One of my favorite colleagues, Dr. Nancy Molitor recently wrote an article about how to spot and help a child or young adult who is being bullied on the Your Mind. Your Body. – the blog for the American Psychological Association. In her article she notes that bullying IS NOT NORMAL and should not be tolerated at any level. She also offers advice for parents or friends of folks who are being bullied, including how to involve the school counselor or college mental health center.
Our society has become more complex and bullying doesn’t just occur on the playground or on the walk home from school anymore. Online bullying has become one of the most complicated and biggest challenges our children face. And unfortunately many of us parents simply aren’t prepared to deal with this aspect of our kids’ lives because it isn’t something we had to contend with ourselves. So beyond the advice we have gotten about preventing, spotting, and managing bullying in general, how do we deal with cyber-bullying in particular?
- Be friends with/follow your kids online. Insist that your children make you friends with full access to their social networking accounts.
- Check their accounts often – like everyday. It isn’t enough to just be friends with your child on Facebook (or Twitter, MySpace, etc) – you must take advantage of those privileges as well. Check in on them often and consider posting on their wall when appropriate – they should be aware of your presence with them in cyberspace.
- Stay current. Technology changes rapidly and – for better or for worse – keeping up with it is now an important piece of parenting. Check out websites like the Online Mom, take a class on social networking at your local library, talk to fellow moms – whatever it takes to stay on top of things.
- Talk a lot. Listen More. Take every opportunity to engage your children in conversations about these kinds of topics. Ask your kids what they think of the suicides that have occurred recently. Ask them if they have ever known anyone who has been bullied, what they would do if they were taunted online, brainstorm about ways to deal with bullies, ask them if they have ever posted anything that could have been construed as bullying. Ask open-ended questions and aim to listen more than you talk.
- Keep your eyes and ears open. Our lives are so busy, it is sometimes hard to notice what is going on in our on homes. Slow down once in a while to notice if your kids are acting differently: more solemn, more isolated, more moody? If so, take action – and quickly.