When Kids Are Bullied Online, Parents Can't be Asleep at the Switch
It seems as if reports of teen suicide and shootings have become a regular occurrence in our nation. This week, an Ohio teen opened fire at a high school he had previously attended and killed three students. Just a few weeks ago, a pretty teenage girl took her own life after being tormented online by her peers. Meanwhile, the trial for Rutgers suicide victim Tyler Clementi is currently unfolding in a New Jersey courtroom and the public is finally hearing the full story of why a gay college student was humiliated by the actions of his roommate that it caused him to take his own life.
As a parent of a tween who is thisclose to her 13th birthday, I have to say that I am glad I know all the tricks of the trade when it comes to cyber bullying. In fact, tonight, after my daughter showed me her Tumblr page, she also shared that her good friend's sister had plagiarized a quote she had written - just because, according to my daughter's best friend, the girl hates her. Luckily, my daughter has a thick skin, but what blows me away is that this girl's parents have no clue what she is up to. The reason? She updates her Tumblr and Facebook from the computer she uses in her basement. Meanwhile, her younger sister is busy chatting with friends on Skype - even though spammers could be hitting her page with pornographic messages. Why do I know that one? Because that's happened to me.
When a child with low self esteem is left to their own devices, many times, they will take to the Internet or in the Ohio case, a school cafeteria and unleash their fury. In the Ohio case, the boy who shot and killed three of his peers and wounded another, had just transferred to another school because he had been struggling academically. The boy was being raised by his grandparents who I'm sure don't have a grasp of what is going on these days with kids and social media.
From texts and photos that can easily go viral, to Tumblr pages that are quickly becoming havens for profanity, plagiarism and inexcusable behavior, if you are a parent of a child who owns a cell phone, has a Facebook page, Tumblr account or goes online frequently, you should be aware of everything they are doing. The only way to protect our kids is to know how they are interacting with others. And if something they do is inappropriate, then your child should be reprimanded for their actions. Sure, it's easier to just ignore bad behavior but if you don't parent your child, they will inevitably do the wrong thing.
I'm not saying that my own kids are angels, but I do know that when they do anything that could potentially hurt someone else's feelings, I call them on it. I even tell my daughter to think before she says or texts something mean to another person. If you feel in your gut that something you're about to say or write would make someone else feel bad, then think again and don't do it.
Bullying can be prevented but the only way to reverse the detrimental effects of social media and teens is to educate them before they even get their first gmail account. Share the heartbreaking stories of young people who took their own lives because they were too afraid or embarrassed to face their tormentors. Make your child aware that online bullying is just as bad if not worse than a physical scuffle on the playground. A bloody nose will heal, but words can leave a lasting effect that can damage a person's psyche forever.
If you are a parent of a tween or teen who has experienced bullying online or at school, visit out Stomp Out Bullying where you can find support and share what you or child is going through.