It seems as if stories of teens being cyberbullied to the point of suicide just keep coming. As a parent, these incidents are scary. But as the news begins to fade, the stories may also fade from your mind.
It's easy to think that:
Don't be so sure about either one.
Consider these frightening facts from the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), part of the Department of Health and Human Services:
This is not an issue that parents can let fade from their minds. This is something that parents need to learn about — and confront.
We usually think of bullying as physical (hitting, punching) or verbal (teasing, name-calling). With technology, children now have the means to threaten, intimidate or embarrass other children through e-mail, instant messaging, text or digital image messaging, web pages, blogs or chat rooms.
What makes this kind of bullying particularly powerful is that avoiding the bullies doesn't help. Cyberbullying can spread quickly to many people, and it can be done anonymously. Teens may even pretend to be another person as a way to embarrass the victim and make them look bad. This is easy to do online.
Many children don't realize they are being bullied — or that they are doing the bullying. In fact, in one survey, teens said they participated in cyberbullying because they thought it was funny. And because much of the bullying is invisible to adults, it can be more difficult for children to recognize when it's occurring. According to another survey, 80% of teens said they didn't have parental rules about internet use — or they found ways around the rules.
Check out the HRSA's website, Stop Bullying Now! It has lots of great information for parents and children, such as:
If your child is a victim of cyberbullying, here is what the website suggests you can do:
Your child may not want you to do these things; they might worry about retaliation, or that somehow people will think that they can't fight their own fights. But that's exactly the mindset that lets bullying continue.
Bullying needs to be brought into the open, and bullies need to have consequences for their behavior. It takes the whole community to stop bullying. To keep kids safe, we need to create a culture that stands up to bullies.
Don't wait for your child to be bullied before you do something. Talk to your child's school and to community leaders. Ask them what they are doing to prevent bullying. Find out how you can help. You just might save a life.
Claire McCarthy, M.D., is an assistant professor in pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, an attending physician at Children's Hospital of Boston, and medical director of the Martha Eliot Health Center, a neighborhood health service of Children's Hospital. She is a senior medical editor for Harvard Health Publications.