If you’ve been around here for any amount of time, you may remember that we’ve had our fair share of cyber bullying from “mean girls” and other forms of bullying.
The first time that I felt a need to step in was when M was in the 5th grade. This is when I learned a hard lesson of parenting: unless there’s significant harm being done, you’re better off being a coach on the sidelines than the quarterback trying to win the game.
7th grade brought the next significant round of bullying by mean girls and was the year I was in the principal’s office more times than I cared for. 8th grade was pretty quiet. But just when I thought I could breathe a sigh of relief, along came the 9th grade and high school. (What is it with the every 2 years pattern??)
High school has opened up a whole new can of challenges. My friend, Jon Lowder, warned me that going from middle to high is like going from a AAA farm league to the Major Leagues.
None of the stuff we’ve encountered is overtly bad – more of the PITA (pain in the ass) variety. Nasty tweets, snarky comments, bitchy texts – pretty textbook stuff. The only difference between what you and I had to deal with and what she and her friends have to deal with is that it’s done electronically as opposed to in person or with pen and paper.
So what is the actual definition of cyber-bullying? According to Google, it is “the use of electronic communication to bully a person, typically by sending messages of an intimidating or threatening nature.” If you want to read the entire NC statute, click here.
All of the schools in our area preach about having zero tolerance policies when it comes to bullying and I’ve been pretty pleased with how they’ve handled situations if it got to that level. While the schools and parents may take a strong stand on cyber-bullying, unfortunately, our judicial system has a more difficult time prosecuting anyone should it get to that point.
IF they were to bring them through the system, they’d be tried as juveniles and most likely be given nothing more than a “slap-on-the-wrist.” We have a friend who did take another kid and their family to court for this kind of abuse. As a resolution, the other kid was ordered to write an apology letter. Pretty expensive apology letter, I’d say.
This past weekend, we had a situation pop up that made me call a friend of the family who is in law enforcement just to validate that what I was doing the right approach. He confirmed that I was, but as a parent, you can’t run to the school every time someone gets pissy and sends out a nasty tweet. So, what do you do?
I’m no expert on the law, but here are a few things I’ve learned along the way:
1. Be Mindful
Keep a diligent eye everywhere, but for the most part, do it from the sidelines. Trust me. It is SO hard for me to read the texts and tweets that come across while biting my tongue and resisting the urge to rip off a few well phrased tweets.
2. Create a “Twatch” List
You don’t have to follow the kids in question (i.e. bullies) on Twitter, but you can create a private list and add them to it without following them. The next best option is to keep a list and just check in on them if you think there’s an issue. For the most part, their everyday tweets are just typical teen bantering that bores me to tears.
3. Give The School A Heads Up
It never hurts to alert the school if they’re getting harassing texts or any other kind of electronic communication.
4. Listen, Listen, Listen
My experience taught me that kids will withhold this kind of information until it reaches critical condition, so make sure you listen when they come to you. This is not the time to tell them, “just a minute”. This could be your one and only shot at them opening up. Don’t blow it. Listen to what they’re telling you even if it seems a bit over the top. I promise, if there’s smoke, there’s fire.
5. Screenshots Are Golden
If there IS an issue, make sure you educate your kid on the importance of taking screenshots and sending them to you. This will be helpful if you choose to send it to the school or addressing the issue with their parents.
6. Understand That There Are Always Two Sides
You may have to admit that your kid may be involved in the act. I have yet to go through one of these situations and think that my girls were 100% innocent. It takes two to tango friends.
7. Provide Your Kid(s) With Options
While it’s really, really hard to do, sometimes the best course of action is just to ignore the bully acts. Teach them not to engage, respond, or react. They may still do it, but if you repeat this often enough, they’ll get better at doing it – at least a little bit.
8. If All Else Fails, Do What You Have To Do
If it gets really bad, do what you have to do. Get the school, the parents, and the authorities involved. At the end of the day, it’s better to be overprotective than under.
The one thing that blows my mind about this group of kids is that they have some major cajones. They think nothing can stop them. I’ve seen texts where one kid proclaimed that “because his dad was rich, he’d make sure that M and her friends would never go to college”. I know you’re dying to know what my response to that was. Well, I pulled a Dr. Huxtable and told M, “he doesn’t have money. His DAD may have money, but this kid is like you…broke”.
I’ve never said this phase was easy, but my hope is that I can at least prepare you for what’s’ to come so that you’re ready to handle it as best as possible. Don’t worry – we’ll all survive!