The day cyber bullying came to my home
If your child saw someone being bullied, would they step in and try to help? And if they were online and saw a friend being cyber bullied, would they have the courage to say “stop”?
How do we help our children decide to step in when so many people step away from bullying incidents?
We recently had an experience with cyber bullying in our home that left me with some answers and insights to those questions. Let me explain.
One of my daughters (who I’ll call Olive to protect her privacy) had a friend (Chloe – also not her real name) visiting. Olive’s phone was abuzz as messages darted back and forth among about 12 of the girls’ school friends in a group chat on a social media site. With 12 teenagers all chatting at once, there were about eight messages a minute!
During the chat, a boy posted a picture of Chloe, my daughter’s friend who was visiting. The picture was terribly unflattering and embarrassed Chloe. She took Olive’s phone and immediately demanded the boy remove the picture. She also reminded him that he had promised he would never show anyone the picture, and then pointed out that he had lied to her because he had also promised to delete it from his phone.
The boy laughed the demands away. He told her to stop being so sensitive and it was no big deal. Then he reminded her that photos don’t lie.
She upped the ante, begging him to take it down and stop it. She told him it made her feel exploited and taken advantage of.
He mocked her.
At this point, Olive spoke to my wife. “Look at what he’s doing to Chloe. Why isn’t anyone saying anything? This is wrong.”
Chloe sat in our lounge room, visibly distressed.
“What are your options?” my wife asked Olive.
Olive knew what the right option was immediately, but didn’t want to stick her neck out.
“I know I should say something. But what if he starts attacking me?”
Chloe sat pensively. She felt bullied. Victimised. Anxious. She quietly said, “I’m going to go for a walk. I’ll be back soon.”
Olive suggested they walk together, but Chloe asked if she could “just be alone for a few minutes.”
“Mum, I have to say something. They can’t make her feel like this and think it’s ok,” Olive told my wife matter-of-factly as soon as Chloe had left the house. Then she picked up her phone and wrote a message.
“It’s not ok to do what you’ve done. She told you to delete the photo. It embarrasses her. You need to take it down and apologise.”
The response was instant, and stinging: “This isn’t your issue, Olive. Stay out of it.”
My daughter paused, looked at my wife, and sighed. “Now he’s started attacking me.” Then she looked back at the phone and sent one more message. “If this isn’t my issue, then you shouldn’t be including me in it. This is a group conversation. You’ve included us all in it. And what you’re doing to Chloe is not ok.”
Within seconds, Olive’s phone starting buzzing. Messages of support were instantaneous.
“Olive’s right. Sort it out with Chloe privately.”
“Man, the picture isn’t cool. If she wants it taken down, you should do it.”
“Yeah, this is a group chat. We’re supposed to be friends.”
“Don’t take it out on Olive. She’s sticking up for her friend.”
“You should take the picture down.”
I am an incredibly proud dad. What my daughter did was really hard for her. But it made a significant impact for her friend.
What lessons can we draw from this to help our children in these situations?
1. Make sure your children know that any image on another person’s phone or device is an image they have no control over. It is vital that they do all they can to ensure images that shouldn’t be public are never shared (or even taken).
2. If someone takes a picture without permission, they should do all they can to ensure that the image is removed from the person’s device.
3. Children need to know that Snapchat is not safe. Images can be captured with a screenshot. SnapHack allows images to be held for 24 hours or more rather than the initial 10 seconds. No image is safe.
4. Children should be reminded that if something feels wrong, they should say something. Others will usually be thinking the same thing and will often support them. An instant alliance can form to beat the bully.
5. Children should know that if something occurs online or offline, we are ALWAYS there for them, and will guide them and support them in making right decisions.
6. When we supportively defer decisions to our children, they find the right answers inside themselves.
Cyberbullying is hurting our kids every day. It won’t work in every case, but in many, many cases, the pain and anxiety that bullying brings can be reduced if someone – perhaps our child – has the courage to step in and say something to stop it.
This article was written by Dr Justin Coulson for Kidspot.com.au and has been adapted for Kidspot.co.nz