No matter the platform, teens are spending nearly all their time online. A recent survey showed 45% of teens said they are online almost constantly, while another 44% said they’re online several times a day. Only 11% said they were online less often. This constant screen time often times results in varied levels of cyber-bullying.
Bullying takes a toll on victims both emotionally and spiritually. Unfortunately, as technology has advanced, it has expanded the tools available for perpetrators to use against their victims. Polls show cyber-bullying to be one of the most common forms of bullying, and it can take many forms including online harassment, sexual exploitation and dissemination of inappropriate pictures, rumors and even threats.
There was a time in the past when students could escape from a bully when school ended and they were in the protection of their house, but that is no longer the case with social media. Another thing which makes cyber-bullying so dangerous is the ability for the perpetrator to remain veiled behind the anonymous cloak of the internet. This is why cyber-bullying has become so prevalent, because the courage it takes to say things to a person’s face become far more difficult when you have to look them in the eyes as another person. Behind the screen you can dehumanize them without having to address them as a person.
Every teen or child handles the effects of bullying differently. Some may openly admit the abuse to parents, others may hide the damage worried that they may get in trouble or that they can deal with it solo. However, parents absolutely need to be involved and aware of their child’s online activity and keep the lines of communication open at all times.
With the recent explosion the last two years of 13 Reasons Why, as well as countless other suicide awareness advocates in the media such as Logic’s song 1-800-273-8255, we must begin to address the problem. It is real and it is something which all teens today are at least thinking and working through the implications of because every week it hits them in the face with another story or incident in the media.
Parents are a child’s best resource and should be the loudest advocates when their child becomes the victim of bullying. While parents should lean on their faith for support, they also should understand that their child’s faith or spirituality may be challenged during these times. Here are 10 ways for parents to help their hurt child when bullying is suspected.
1. Be the light.
If parents notice that their child is acting differently—more withdrawn, worried, etc.—it’s time for a talk. Don’t be confrontational, though. Talk openly and honestly with kids. Never judge. Be the safe haven your children can go to for safety, love, and comfort. Also make sure that your students are in the loop with what you are going to do with protecting them going forward.
2. Request a meeting with the school.
If a child is being cyber-bullied by a peer, then request a meeting with the school. Don’t get angry, don’t become confrontational. But you do need to know what the school district’s bullying policy entails. You will want to print out copies of any threatening or abusive communications that your son or daughter received. This means when your child comes to you about being bullied, you must start documenting the occurrences to show when this meeting takes.
3. Involving the police.
Some forms of bullying cross the line and are actually criminal acts. Each state has different laws about bullying, online harassment, etc. And, yes, in some bullying cases the police absolutely should be contacted. Do your homework on the steps you need to take with the documentation you make.
4. Use prayer for positive.
Pray for strength, and pray with positive intentions. Don’t use prayer to shame or blame your child. Prayer also should not take the place of a licensed therapist or counselor, which some bullying victims need to fully heal. Lift your child up daily in your prayers and in your circle of friends and church to be praying as well.
5. Youth groups may help strengthen friendships and faith.
Many churches offer youth groups or other opportunities for teens to meet other peers. If your child is struggling with friendships, this may be an opportunity for them to find peers with the same values and also build a network of trusted friends. The church should be the one place they can go and not face this sort of treatment, though this is not always the case either. There are often times parachurch organizations focused at reaching teens such as Youth for Christ, FCA, Young Life, and many others.
6. Help cannot wait.
Parents know their child better than anyone. If you notice changes with your child that indicate depression or see signs of self-harm, then get help immediately. With the heights and continuity which can come with cyber-bullying, as well as the shows and responses we see to it in the media, you want to act immediately. It is never to early to begin battling bullying.
7. See a licensed therapist
Christian therapist or not, there are some things that require a therapist. Therapy does not mean your child is broken or you have failed as a parent, in fact it is in many cases one of the most beneficial things you could do. Many healthy people meet regularly or semi-regularly with therapists just to talk through how things are going to make sure they are keeping a healthy and balanced life.
8. Audit social media.
Deleting all social media accounts isn’t very practical for most teens. But you can limit friends and the apps that you child uses. Parents should always investigate social media platform before allowing their child to sign on to the service. Yes, this means reading the Terms of Service, as well. To reuse an analogy I have used before, if you would not let you child navigate the subway in New York City alone, especially after dark, why would you allow your child to navigate the dark corners of the world wide web without some sort of knowledge into what they were doing. As a last resort, maybe deleting social media is the answer to resort to, but it should not be the first response.
9. The abuse may cause a child to question faith.
Why do bad things happen? Everyone asks this question, and for a teen who was bullied, they may find that they question their faith. If your child is questioning why, just listen to them. We are all given free will, and some use this for evil and not good. Your pastor also may offer guidance to help a child who’s questioning their faith. Talk openly with your children about this and do not rebuke them for their questions of theodicy (where is God). Job faced many of the same questions, the thing is you must guide them through the questions in a healthy manner.
10. Christianity doesn’t insulate kids from bullies.
Never assume that having faith, or even attending a religious-based school keeps kids safe from a bully. Yes, bullies are at all schools. Make sure that your school has policies in place to deal with any bullying behaviors.
Any child can be a victim of bullying. However, when a parent suspects that their child is being bullied, they need to step in immediately. Contact the school and request a meeting, and, if the issue demands it, then the police also must be notified. Always support children with love and non-judgment. Use faith as a tool to guide them and help them heal.
Most importantly, love your children and listen to them. Yes, sometimes they will overplay things and exaggerate, but remember their brains do not fully form until their mid-20’s and sometimes they misinterpret things. Hear them and love them, and make sure you are there helping guide them in their growth.