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Talking to your child about cyberbullying can be hard to navigate. Here are our top tips to help get the conversation started.
Take a deep breath. This may be one of the first times your child (and by default you) has been involved in a bullying situation. It can be distressing and highly emotional for everyone involved. It is important that your child feels that you are confident in resolving the situation they are involved in, so take a moment to plan what you will say, and think of some ways to calmly convey that they can feel safe to share anything with you.
Having difficult conversations isn’t easy for anyone, but there are a couple of tips that can help keep things on track:
Kids at this age still need assistance making connections, and it can be helpful for them to relate their situation to another person or situation they know or have heard about.
Saying “Do you remember when your cousin fought with his best friend John? They used to tease each other about their builds on Roblox, but they stopped messaging in the game when Ethan got upset about John joking about him never having any Robux to build better games. When they spoke in real life instead, they found that there was a big misunderstanding because of the way John messaged in the chat. What he meant as a joke, Ethan took the wrong way. They talked it out in real life and the situation was solved.”
Always act to protect your child from danger by calling 000 if necessary.
Consider the purpose of the conversation you want to have. Dealing with a cyberbullying incident can get emotional and heated. It can be really helpful to decide, before you start talking to your child, what you think the purpose of the conversation should be. Is it identifying some negative online behaviours you’ve noticed them display? Is it helping them with some practical strategies to manage friendship issues? Is there something that has happened at school that you feel is impacting the situation you feel you can help with?
Being clear on the purpose or objective of the conversation helps you stay on track when the conversation becomes tense, and allows you to focus on facts and solutions rather than interpretations of what has happened.
Sometimes these situations are fraught with complexities that kids may feel overwhelmed by. It is very helpful to discuss the actions they are able to maintain control over which will help result in a positive outcome.
At this age, kids are really pushing the limits in their quest for freedom and independence (and damn they can be convincing!). They are resistant to rules, want trust and autonomy and this is of course understandably motivated by their need to be included, validated by and accepted by their peer group. Kids at this age are also still very impulsive and emotionally reactive (very often a root cause when it comes to cyberbullying).
By understanding their developmental phases, you will be best placed to preempt possible triggers or negative emotions exhibited by your child. When they react angrily or emotionally during a conversation, it often helps to know that it's often happening because of their developmental stage - not because of you.
Kids at this age are often reluctant to come to their parents for help due to the fact they feel they won’t understand, will overreact or judge, or may even take devices away as a punishment for negative online incidents. Create a time and space that encourages sharing from both of you. Stay curious and genuinely interested in ensuring their side is heard.
Cyberbullying continues to happen for kids well into their teens, but is it important at this age to look for the invisible issues that may be at play in cyberbullying situations for both the victim and the perpetrator. Is your child lacking in self-esteem, acting out for attention, or trying to increase their social standing in their group hierarchy to feel validated? Maybe they are jealous of someone, seeking revenge by righting a wrong on behalf of a friend, or simply acting out because they’re bored.
Understanding what the backstory might be allows you to address the real problems and issues occurring in a bullying situation, no matter what role your child plays. Read between the lines.
Let's face it, nobody really enjoys the awkwardness of the “serious chat.” With teens at this age, unless a problem situation is unfolding in real-time, micro and macro conversations on this topic can create a more relaxed and open dialogue.