You remember the days of prank phone calls. Chances are you made this one:
“Is your refrigerator running?”
“Then you better go catch it!” Hang up. Laugh hysterically.
Admit it. You did it as a teenager. It was annoying to the person on the other end of the line but innocent.
Oh, how times have changed. Today, messages via texting, Facebook, Twitter, SnapChat, Instagram have replaced the prank phone call. And, they’re not telling lame jokes.
A few months back, our family had a big fat lesson in internet safety, and thanks to our local Police Department, it’s been an eye-opener for us and our daughter.
Then, this past week, we were tested, again. Sigh.
This time it was a harassing text from a girl to my daughter. My daughter took it very seriously. Thank you again, Police Department, she was listening. The exact details of what was said in the text isn’t as important as what you, as a parent, should do if it happens to your child.
11 WAYS TO COMBAT TEXT BULLYING:
- Never dismiss text bullies as innocent pranksters. Text messages (or online messages) that are harassing in nature, physical or verbal, is the definition of cyber bullying. In some cases, it is a criminal act.
- If there is name calling, it is cyber bullying. Period.
- If a threat is made to do bodily harm, this is a criminal act. Yes, the Police should be involved.
- Remind your child not to respond or engage. Instead document everything, i.e. with screen shots of your child’s phone or computer, or print outs, but ALWAYS keep the actual data on the phone as evidence. Never delete it.
- Do not underestimate the distress a bully can have on your child. Words do hurt. Never tell your child to “ignore it”, or “it’s just a joke”.
- Recognize it early, and take steps to stop it immediately. This could mean contacting the police, your child’s school, or the other child’s parent to have a little chat. (I will tell you from experience, a chat with the parent is not fun, but they may not realize what is going on, and will take steps to stop it.)
- Know that there are apps that allow a bully to use a number that is hard to trace. Now days kids know more about their phone than we do, educate yourself. Being a parent in this technology-savvy world means you need to know a thing or two about it.
- Understand why bullies do what they do. They crave attention and gratification. It is our job to hold them accountable for what they say and do. Their nasty words are NOT a reflection on your child, nor your child’s fault. Reassure your child of this fact.
- Text bullying is similar to stalking. Learn if you can block a phone number on your child’s phone. Some phones can, some can’t. If you can’t, consider changing the number and only allowing a limited number of people to have the new number. It’s like changing the locks on your door. If the bully doesn’t have the number, they can’t text.
- Insist on ZERO TOLERANCE for cyber bullying. It is a crime. Teach your child to speak out about cyber bullies. Let them know it will it be tolerated in your house. Let them know the consequences if they do it. Encourage them to be part of the solution against such bullies. Resist the urge to take away your child’s phone if they are the victim of a text bully. It’s not their fault.
- Encourage you child to talk to you openly if they experience cyber bullies, or if they witness it. I don’t need to link stories of children who have taken their own life because of cyber bullies. We know it happens.
Cyber bullying is not a joke. Educate your child on what to do if it happens to them.
Kids need to coexist with technology not be bullied by it.
A side note: Just as there are rules in our house, there are rules with her phone. When my daughter first got her cell phone (in 5th grade) she signed a Cell Phone Contract with us. On the list was spelled out what is expected of her with the privilege of a cell phone. Same is true when she got her iPod. This included no text bullying, no sexting, she must hand over the phone whenever I ask, and I am allowed to go through it if there is probable cause. Here is a great contract, and this one has a sense of humor about it. It’s never too late to talk about cyber bullying.
*Background photo source: StockVault.