How can I know for sure whether my child has become a target of intimidating text messages or cruel rumors on social media? Are there any tell-tale signs? If it turns out my child is being cyber-bullied, what can I do to help?
If you suspect that your child is being subjected to cyber-bullying, we strongly suggest that you take decisive action. The first step is to approach your child directly with your concerns. You can start by asking questions like, "How's the social networking going for you?" But be forewarned – this may not be a smooth and easy process. Kids who are being targeted by bullies of any kind may have a number of reasons for keeping their distress under wraps. They may be ashamed or embarrassed. They may be afraid of retaliation and further hostilities if they bring the situation to light. Don't be surprised, then, if your child is reluctant to talk.
If your attempts at direct communication prove fruitless, keep an eye out for the following signs: unexplained emotional changes; depression and nervousness, especially after the child has been spending a great deal of time on Facebook or some other social networking website; withdrawal, secrecy, sadness and tearfulness; overeating or a refusal to eat; an obsession with the phone or the computer; listlessness and loss of interest in favorite activities. The sudden onset of uncharacteristic behaviors such as stealing or lying could indicate that your child has become the victim of some form of extortion.
If you conclude that your child is indeed dealing with a cyber-bullying problem, we recommend that you sit down with him and discuss the subject frankly and straightforwardly. Let him know that he's not alone. Make it clear that you are on his team and you do want to listen and help. Above all, help him see the injustice of the treatment he's experiencing. Don't allow him to blame himself for his troubles. Say something like, "This situation is not okay. No matter what the bullies are telling you, you've done nothing to deserve this kind of abuse. One way or another, we are going to put a stop to it."
As a part of this discussion, work with your child to define the purpose of his involvement in social networking and to establish appropriate boundaries for any future activity. After that, we strongly recommend that you insist he take a break it for a designated period of time. This will give him an opportunity to heal emotionally and repair any damage that may have been done to his reputation. If the situation requires it – for example, if the bullying has involved physical abuse or if there have been threats of violence – you should seriously consider the possibility of finding a new school or moving your child into a new environment. But don't jump at this option too quickly, since it may have the unintended effect of reinforcing the withdrawal symptoms and emphasizing your child's feelings of weakness, inadequacy, and fear. Ultimately, he will be a stronger and better person if he learns to face adverse circumstances with courage and confidence.
In your efforts to support your child, you will probably want to enlist the help of other trusted adults, such as school authorities, counselors, a pastor, a youth leader, a church elder, or a family friend. Make an effort to acquaint yourself with the culture of your child's school and to identify the teachers and administrators who have the most direct contact with the students. Don't leave yourself and your child in the position of facing this threat alone. In addition, feel free to call and speak with one of our licensed Christian counselors over the phone.
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