5 Ways to Equip Your Teen to Better Handle Cyberbullying

We are facing a time when kids of all ages struggle with thoughts of suicide. According to one study, young people who are cyberbullied are twice as likely to take their own life or self-harm. Sadly, this has caused us to add the word bullycide to our lexicon this past year.

Once upon a time, a teen wanting to be mean might tear some paper from a binder, scribble something nasty about a classmate and pass it around school, sending it into the rumor mill for a week or so. Today, these slams are posted online for all of the world to see, and they have the potential to inflict much more harm on their victim’s psyche.

We frequently discuss helping our children build resilience offline by developing attitudes of self-respect, empathy for others, and honesty, however, today we need to talk about digital resilience.

A Pew Research Center study found that 92 percent of U.S. teenagers use social networks at least once a day, with  45 percent reporting that they are online almost constantly. There’s no shortage of online hate and trolling, however, one survey shared that it could be your teen’s own friend that is cyberbullying them.

Parents may never be as tech-savvy as their teenager. Teens may always be an app ahead of us, but the basics of your offline parenting should constantly be whispering in your teen’s head when they’re about to make online decisions. “What would mom/dad want me to do?”

Here are 5 things to remind your teen of to help them better handle cyberbullying:

  1. Be prepared for the ugly side of the Internet. Being forewarned is being forearmed. No matter what your age is, online, like offline, there will be people that make distasteful comments or that won’t agree with you. However, in cyberspace, with the lack of accountability, know that some people use their keypad as a weapon rather than a tool.
  2. Be informed. Know how to block individuals, flag and report abusive content, and when to report incidents. Emphasize the importance of telling someone “in real life.” Stress to your teen they can come to you without judgment. Kids need to feel safe.
  3. It’s not all real. There’s a reason why Facebook is frequently referred to as Fakebook. Show your teen how easily digital pictures can be manipulated. The realization that not everything is what it seems is a useful first step – understanding that life is not as perfect as it may seem Teens may be familiar with the digital world but less familiar with the motivations for creating ‘fake’ images.
  4. Critical thinking. Think twice, post once. Help your teen to think through the possible consequences of what they post online. Remind them that there is no rewind – once it’s posted it’s nearly impossible to take back. Fifteen minutes of humor is not worth a lifetime of humiliation.
  5. Socialize in person. Take time offline to know your friends. Encourage your teen to socialize in person with their friends. Communicating solely behind a screen can be isolating. Socializing in person builds more face-to-face contact in helping your child have empathy and compassion towards people.

Building digital resilience is not only for adolescents, parents too need to be more self-aware of how social media is affecting their daily lives to better help their children.

Sue Scheff is an author and parent advocate. She is the founder of Parents’ Universal Resource Experts, Inc., which has helped thousands of families since 2001 with at-risk teenagers. Her first book, Wit’s End! Advice and Resources for Saving Your Out-of-Control Teen continues to be resource for many parents raising teens today. Sue’s latest book, Shame Nation: The Global Epidemic of Online Hate, documents how cyber-shaming has become a national pastime and what we can do about it. Connect with Sue on Twitter and Facebook.