Cyberbullying is the act of bullying through the internet and social media platforms. While this topic is not new, its effects are pervasive and continuing to harm America’s youth.
While perusing the news recently, I came across an article about a young girl who committed suicide in Florida after being bullied constantly both in school and over the internet. This story is incredibly tragic. Sadly, this incident is not solitary and there are many others that mirror its details. As someone who has worked with children as a mentor, tutor, and nanny, I believe that there are effective ways to address this problem.
First, I would like to ask the question, “Who’s to blame?” In my opinion, there are two perpetrators in cyberbullying. The child that is writing and sending the hateful comments, as well as the parent or guardian of that child. One might ask, if the parent isn’t aware their kid is bullying someone over the internet how are they at fault? To that I respond, the title parent or guardian should immediately imply that it is your duty to know what your child is doing. Parents play a key role in influencing the activities and choices of their children. While parents cannot always directly control the behavior of their kids, as adults, they are responsible for the actions of their children and therefore MUST take explicit actions.
The question remains how can this be stopped? My answer: 1) Parent controls & review of internet activities 2) Family discussions with children 3) Doctor’s involvement 4) Legislative action 5) Increased communication between schools and families.
1) Parent controls & review of internet activities
Similarly to parental controls on what channels and movies a child can watch, it is the role of the parent to set ground rules about different websites. Besides preventing access to specific sites, the parent could say something along the lines of “when you turn 14 years old you will be allowed to have your own Facebook account.” There is software to also control their activities. These steps will be taken not only to be aware of your child’s actions, but also to be aware of if they are a victim of bullying.
2) Family discussions with children
The first recommendation will only be successful if there is an open and honest dialogue about cyberbullying and the parent’s expectations of the child. The parents must be honest and emphasize the importance of communication between the kid and the parent about bullying. It’s important not only to encourage positive behavior online, but also to report any bullying that the child is aware of. Additionally, if the child is being given the privilege of access to the internet, the parent should divulge that they will be logging into their kid’s account to review their activities.
Now this might sound like an invasion into their privacy; however, in a study published in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communicationresearchers from Cornell University and the University of California – Berkeley, while 30 percent of youths admit to having been cyberbullied, only slightly higher than 10 percent of their parents reported that they knew. Therefore, parents logging into their kid’s accounts is critical in the process of preventing and addressing cyberbullying.
3) Doctor’s involvement
One might ask, why and how should a primary care physician be involved with cyberbullying? Well, at annual appointments doctor’s ask their patients physical and mental health screening questions. Do you wear a helmet when you ride your bike? Do you feel safe at home? Many mental health caretakers and researchers have suggested that doctors add questions about internet use to their annual screenings. Questions asking about type of internet use would give some doctor’s better insight into the potential for their patient to be a victim or perpetrator of cyberbullying. Additionally, as children are under 18 years old the doctor can then relay any concerns they have to the parent and support them in finding any additional resources.
4) Legislative action
After the recent suicide after cyberbullying in Florida, Florida State Lawyer Mark O’Mara committed himself to drafting a proposal that would hold parents accountable for cyberbullying. While many states and schools have official no bullying and no tolerance policies they are not being 100% affective. Therefore, in order to encourage parents to do the first two recommendations, it is imperative that there’s a law that holds them accountable for their child’s actions. This will hopefully not only have parents prevent bullying from occurring but also prompt discussion about the issue overall.
5) Increased communication between schools and families
Lastly, although this post did not address the actions that the schools themselves should take to address these issues, it is incredibly important that communication is open between families and the school. The children need a safe space both in school and at home. As part of parent teacher conferences there should be discussion about the child’s mental health and any issues of bullying. Additionally, it would be great to put on a community event encouraging parent and children’s attendance to address this issue.