Cyber-Bullying. Same Threat, Different Medium

We all know that the world has changed and keeps changing.  I know that I sound old when I marvel at the technological divide between the generations, but it is so striking that I cannot resist.  My father struggled to use a computer for emails. I embrace modern technology, but still remember using typewriters. I also lived when phones had no answering machines or call-waiting, when long  distance cost extra, and when making a connection with someone took time and was never guaranteed.  My children can share pictures, videos, and conversations over cells phones, computers, and tablets with nearly anyone at anytime, and almost instantly.

This is the age of information technology, social media, the internet, and massive cell-phone coverage -- in short, everything all the time.  Along with the blessings of our changed world comes an unwanted evil that can feel unexpected and daunting.  

Cyber-bullying has gotten a lot of attention, lately, and rightfully so.  But it is nothing really new.  Bullying has been around for a long time and cyber-bullying is just another way to do the same old thing.  Studies have shown that there is not much difference between cyber and real-time bullying in terms of the effects and prevention strategies. Bullies exploit vulnerabilities. Our children need to learn to "stand up" to the aggression and to "change the exchange."

Whether in real-life or online, standing up to a bully means refusing to be their victim.  You can leave the situation, you might choose to assert your right to have peace, and you can even ask for assistance from others.  Just like in "the good old days" when I went to school (back when girls were not allowed to wear pants to school and boys were required to keep their shirts tucked in) the very BEST resource for protecting children from being bullied is a good relationship with parents.

Parents are there to teach children to "stand up" for themselves.  A good relationship with your son or  daughter means that they need not be alone through whatever trials they face, especially emotionally difficult ones.  As your child matures and grows toward adulthood, parents teach them to develop assertive and effective interpersonal skills in a variety of situations.  Social media is just another of those situations.  There are ways to stand up for yourself.  There are ways to block offensive language and people.  There are times when NOT responding is the most effective defensive against an online bully.  Even though unpleasant situations are, well, unpleasant to go through, it is a blessing for children to be able to go through them with the guidance and protection of wise and loving parents.

For those parents that feel inadequately trained, or otherwise overwhelmed by the job of teaching your children to assertively "stand up" for themselves rather than to regress into the childish behavior of passivity or aggression, there is help.  The internet is not only used for bullying, it is also a great source of information about how to prevent and stop it.  A google search of cyberbullying prevention yields over 600,000 websites.  In 49 of the 50 states in the US,  anti-bullying laws have been passed.

The bedrock of protecting yourself from a bully is the ability to stand up for yourself.  Parents should consider sharpening their own assertiveness skills as they face the need to teach their children.  And if you need help, the internet is an excellent tool for finding the help you need.  And if you need help finding the information on the internet, just ask your children -- they'll find it for you in less than a minute.