During recent months, there have been reports of a significant increase in cyberbullying. Because of the pandemic, our kids are interacting more through social media and the rate of cyberbullying has apparently increased as a result. A few years ago, a mother told me about a cyberbullying episode that involved her daughter, whom we will call Mandy, and described how she helped her daughter.
Mom’s concerns had been increasing daily. She had never seen her daughter like this. For over a week, it was all she could do to get Mandy to go to school. Mom started imagining all sorts of dire situations. “Is she into drugs? Could she be failing one of her classes? Is she having trouble with one of her teachers?” Mom’s mind was going wild trying to figure this out.
Finally, Mom had a clue. She heard Mandy crying over the phone to her best friend and saying, “I don’t know what I did wrong. Why are they doing that to me? They hate me. I’ve never done anything to them. None of that stuff is true. I just wish I was dead!”
As Mandy came into the kitchen after the call, Mom held Mandy tight and said, “I know you’re hurting something terrible. This can’t go on like this. You and I are not going anywhere until you tell me what this is all about.”
After a long, hard cry, Mandy took Mom to her computer. “Look at all of these emails,” she cried, “Look at all these text messages on my cell phone. Why would they want to say all these bad things about me?”
It was a clear case of cyberbullying. Mandy had been singled out by a group of kids who were systematically rejecting her and destroying her sense of belonging. The computer was filled with the most horrible accusations imaginable about how she looked, dressed, and acted. It was enough to make any parent sick.
Mom hugged Mandy and said empathetically, “Oh, Mandy. That has to hurt so bad. Who is doing this and why do they do things like that?” Mandy cried, “I don’t know who it is, Mom. But I think it’s some of the popular kids. They are really mean to everybody who is not in their group.” Mom replied, “What’s happening to you is called cyberbullying. That’s got to make you feel awful. We need to all talk about this and get you some help. I bet there’s a lot of information on the Internet.”
Mandy and her mom found lots of information on the web, and Mandy started to discover that kids who do this are usually insecure, cowardly, and have a lot of personal problems. They also learned that there were steps that they could take to help Mandy.
Armed with information from some web sites, she and her parents met with the school officials and, as a result, filed information with the police who showed them how to save every email and phone message as evidence. This evidence helped them track down the culprits. Even with this, Mandy was fearful, frequently complaining, “But what if it happens again? I couldn’t eat, or sleep, or face anybody at school!”
Mom reflected on what they had learned by saying, “Now that you know that the kids who do this are hurting and emotionally weak, you can create a new vision that will protect you each time something like this happens.” Then she said, “Remember we learned that bullies thrive on getting a reaction, so you can ignore them. To help you ignore them, you need a mantra that reminds you that these are kids who only know how to build themselves up by tearing someone else down.”
This wise mom taught Mandy a mantra, “Uh, oh. Another sick and sorry kid. I don’t need to respond.” They practiced this over and over until Mandy could blurt it out with conviction.
A month later Mandy came to her mother saying, “My friend Jill is getting victimized by cyberbullying. I taught her how to use my favorite mantra. Now we both say it and she’s doing okay. It’s sad that some kids feel so bad about themselves that they’d do stuff like that.”
If your kid is the victim of cyberbullying, reach out to your school or other resources for help. Our audio, Real Talk on Technology, is an excellent resource that includes guidelines on teaching kids how to avoid becoming victims in the social media realm.
Thanks for reading!