We’ve written about online bullying before, and addressed the severity of the issue and its direct correlation with teen suicide. Teenagers at the height of their adolescence are especially sensitive to the type of mental and sometimes physical abuse associated with bullying. With the advent of the Internet, a child can no longer leave this problem at school. It follows them home. Thanks to the permanent memory of the Internet, the lasting impact of even a single incident can dwell for quite some time.
Now more than ever, teens are facing pressures and influences that reach far beyond the school cafeteria and into virtually every aspect of their lives.
I remember being teased at school. I was overweight and prone to acne, which made me a great target for bullies. Walking into the choir room and hearing a group of “cool kids” break out into a chorus of Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer in response to a rather large red bump on my nose was commonplace, yet quite uncomfortable.
Thankfully, this teasing stopped when I went home. My solace from this issue was an anonymous online gaming community that enabled me to enjoy the company of like-minded individuals (most of which around the same age as myself) and play a game that focused on a world entirely different from our own. The friends I had through high school interacted with me on a face-to-face basis instead of online, making it easier to focus those interactions around activities rather than gossip or hurtful speech.
Today, the online world our teens escape to is one of transparency where the people you face at school can find and comment about every aspect of your life. Non-participation in social networks such as Facebook opens you up to being bullied in absence, a phenomenon where teens gossip and spread hurtful information capable of being seen by outside individuals searching for the teen on Google or other search engines.
You have two choices. Either you participate in social media and face harsh bullying head on or you refrain and leave your entire reputation to be built and determined by the same bullies you’d hope to avoid. Where is the choice here? To fit in, you have to participate these days.
Parents are tasked with having to protect their child’s interest at home, at school, and now in a virtual space from which they have little to no recourse. I decided to reach out to Christopher Burgess, an advocate of child safety and frequent speaker on the issues of bullying and humanitarian issues. We asked for any advice he might pass on to parents concerned that their child might be being bullied online.
How Can You Tell Your Child is Being Bullied?
Burgess advised, “You can review their email, chatroom logs, Text messages, etc. I think that other signs will be more evident, and provide clues to any parent.”
The following is a short list of signs that your child might be the victim of frequent bullying. This list comes from the US Department of Health and Human Services.
- Coming home from school with damaged clothing, books or other belongings.
- Spending less time with friends and being social.
- Unexplainable cuts, bruises and scratches.
- Acting afraid to go to school, walk to and from school, ride the bus or take part in afterschool activities.
- Loss of interest in school work or a drop in grades and performance.
- Appearing sad, moody, teary or depressed after school.
- Complaining frequently of headaches, stomach aches or other physical ailments.
- Having trouble sleeping or frequent nightmares.
- Experiencing a loss of appetite.
- Appearing anxious and suffering from low self-esteem.
- Having thoughts of suicide.
What Can a Parent Do?
Christopher Burgess spoke at last year’s Gnomedex, covering the importance of a parent’s role in preventing teen bullying from going too far. Suicide is sometimes considered the only out for some suffering through incredible social pressure from their peers. It’s important that parents not only identify bullying when it is impacting their child’s lives, but that the proper actions are taken to reassure the them that help is available, and that it gets better.
“There are quite a few steps a parent can take to become aware that their child is in a position of angst and/or danger.” Burgess said, “With respect to cyber-bullying, complete an inventory of the various methods which their child is accessing the net or engaging with their peers. I find that far too often parents are of the opinion that the home PC is the only means by which a child is accessing the net. In my opinion, it is table-stakes to know and understand the many ways in which your child is engaging online and communicating — smartphone, laptop, Wii, Xbox, etc. and where: your house, your neighbors’, the library, etc. Then monitor this activity.”
He continued, “It’s not espionage to know who and what your child is being exposed to online or via any other communications medium. I’d also make sure that there is no laptop in an isolated place in the house — centrally placed devices increase the opportunities for observation and course-correction.”
Bullying is a serious issue, and arguably the largest single contributing factor in teen suicide. Children today can’t escape bullying by simply going home. It follows them online where what is said about them becomes accessible to others for years.
There is no app or one-stop solution to protecting your child from bullying. Where a single bully may see their verbal or physical assault as little more than rough pranking, the combined pressure from a dozen bullies added to the bandwagon effect so easily spread on social networks can amount to an incredible amount of pressure on a single child.
Proactive parenting is vital to understanding and preventing bullying and ultimately suicide. Learning the signs, symptoms, and possible preventative measures you as a parent can take is a large step in the right direction. The pressures we faced as children just ten years ago is a drop in the bucket compared to the social issues facing teens in this modern world where we’re interconnected from the moment we wake up to the point where we fall asleep at night.
Christopher Burgess’ site includes a lot of information on the issue, as well as links to where you can go for more information. “I strongly urge the path of teaching decision-making skills to your children, in an age appropriate manner, then reinforce, revisit, role-play, and invest. After all, you won’t be there 100% of the time. This also requires that investment be made in teaching and guiding your child that coming to you, the parent, when they are overwhelmed is a good thing.”