TRY THIS SURPRISING PARENTING ADVICE TO COUNTER CYBER BULLYING
By Lu Fitoussi-Findlay
Even at a young age, some children can be cruel. I am sure it’s based somewhere in our survival genes but thankfully we live in a society where we teach our children to be kind and tolerant to others.
Children have to learn what is acceptable behaviour and what is not; what will be tolerated in society and what will not.
Sadly, when these lessons get lost in translation, or worse, not taught at all, children can easily turn into a bully (among other things). Almost everyone has come across some sort of bullying in their lives but victims of bullying in the past were a little more fortunate than victims of bullying today.
In the past the bully would be confined somewhat to the school gate, or that street you avoided. Now the bully can follow you home, past your parents loving looks, through your closed door and into your bedroom.
Bullying isn’t something that ends in the playground, it can follow us right through into adulthood, the workplace and relationships. Sadly, with the internet and rise of social media, bullies have moved online to torment and harass victims.
This is particularly tough for children who are still learning their boundaries, morals and building their ‘self’ and self-esteem. The solution isn’t easy. Sure, you can cancel all social media and take away their phones but aren’t you then just punishing the child for the bully’s behaviour? You’re also shielding your child from the problem and setting them apart from their peers rather than giving them the skills they need to combat bullying regardless of the form it takes and where it occurs.
Kids need a degree of privacy and to feel trusted to shape their own views of the world, make their own mistakes and their own decisions. This allows for self-taught lessons that lead to strong self-esteem.
Parents can help tackle potential bullying by teaching their child when it's time to involve a parent/teacher in a possible bullying situation, which in my eyes is pretty much straight away. Aside from this, helping a child build strong ethics and a strong sense of self can help ensure any bully beginnings are like water off a confident duck’s back. This is one way parents can play their part in helping their child tackle the strange connected, cyberbully prone world they will grow up in.
So you can best help your child, it’s important to know - exactly what is bullying?
A dictionary will tell you that to ‘bully’ is to use superior strength or influence to intimidate someone, typically to force them to do something. However, we all know that bullying can take many forms and be as simple as making someone feel terrible about themselves, uncertain, scared and/or alone.
Parents often wonder - what is cyber bullying, does it differ to what we think of as ‘normal’ bullying? In truth, cyber-bullying is much the same except the bully uses online channels like email, social media and, particularly among teens/tweens, WhatsApp Groups to torment their victim. Cyberbullying doesn’t have to start in the playground, thanks to online games and apps, a bully may not even know your child personally.
What’s the likelihood of this happening to my child? Some sobering cyber bullying facts among kids:
87% of young people have seen cyberbullying at some point (source)
19% of cyber bullying is the process of spreading rumours (source)
Girls are more likely to be bullied over social media through apps like Snapchat and Instagram whereas boys, although trending statistically lower for cyber bullying, are mostly targeted over gaming consoles.
Sadly, recent statistics show that cyberbullying is on a steady rise so we need to make sure our kids are as strong as they possibly can be to combat it.
I have always been a firm believer in not overly caring what other people think and I would encourage any parent to try to teach this lesson to their children. It builds a resilience and strength of character that will help them cope if they encounter any sort of bullying, be it cyber or real world.
Encourage children not to do things because they feel others expect them to. When it comes to how they treat others, their personality and how they behave, this should be based on their own personal morals, ethics and enjoyment. Remind them on the relevance or rather irrelevance of trends, saying the right things in order to fit in, or being judged for speaking out.
Children should know that bullies are not happy people, they are often insecure and angry and need an outlet. With the right outlet bullies can change; I just don’t want that outlet to be another child. Let your children know that the moment they take on board and/or react to what the bully says or does is the moment the bully knows they have found a victim.
An understanding of this basic fact can help a child root out a potential bully and the start of bullying, if they can ignore said bully they often drop off that bully’s radar before things go any further.
If your child is comfortable enough in themselves to laugh at an initial quip, delete it, walk away from it, report it, block it, distance themselves from it - then that is a wonderful defence.
But how do you make sure your child feels confident enough to do these things?
The seeds can be sown in ways that may seem unrelated but can help your child build strong defences and self-trust. Self-trust will enable your child to see a bully for what they are, feel sorry for them rather than be made to feel terrible by them and easily walk away or block them at the start of any issues.
One crucial thing to bear in mind is that as a parent, your strongest position is to lead by example. Treat yourself with kindness, allow your child to see you celebrate small victories, to hear you speak about yourself kindly and see confidence in you.
That negative voice in our head which bullies play in to must be banished! As adults, negative self-talk can come from a smorgasbord of day-to-day life, scenarios we have held on to from relationships, work, media, friendships - but the start of it all is often our parents.
If our parents questioned our legitimate feelings, didn’t believe or listen to us and were always judging, this feeds into the voices we hear later in life. So while we can’t follow our children through life - as much as I am sure we would like to - we can start them off with a clean slate and a positive self-talk base to work from.
Praise your child when praise is due. Encourage them to praise themselves and take on challenges. Teach them it’s ok to fail, that they can improve with practice and that you will not be inpatient whilst they try. Listen to what they tell you with non-judgement and create a supportive, safe relationship with them in order to help them create a supportive, safe relationship with themselves.
Let your children know they can always talk to you about anything. Let them know that whatever they want to tell you they can, without being met with anger, shouting or judgement - whatever it is you will make the time to listen and discuss a plan of how to move forward.
Educate your children on healthy relationships; what makes a good or bad friend. Make sure they know how to use the blocking and reporting methods of any online platform they are using and that whatever is said, however embarrassing, vile or cruel, they can tell you and you will listen rather than fly off the handle.
A great defence against cyber bullying is making sure you as a parent can handle any situations that occur meaning your child feels comfortable to approach you when any incidents arise.