Sadly, Eden Wormer's struggle in not unique. According to recent statistics 75% of American teenagers say they have been bullied online but only 10% actually tell their parents.
In a world where the great majority of teenagers are on Facebook, My Space, and/or twitter, opening lines of communication with our children about their experience is critical so they don't silently fall into a pit of pain too deep to climb out of.
Bullies have always had power, but the invention of social networking has made it even easier. In Pam and I's newest book "Who's In Your Social Network" Jesse explains:
People cyber-bully all the time to be “cool” and it’s terrible. People say so many hurtful things to people. Half the time you can’t believe that people would actually say some of the stuff they do but I think they feel more comfortable doing it because they are behind the screen of a computer rather than face to face. It’s totally a cheap thing to do but it is very powerful. I’m in high school and I’ve been harassed. I’m sure it will keep happening more frequently.
As much as everyone hates it, they too can be sometimes hypocrites. I’ve seen plenty of people say, “I hate it when people bully others” but then they turn around and tag team with another bullier instead of doing anything about the situation. People don’t like admitting it, but it’s true. You know how I know? Because even though I have been bullied and hate it and know how rotten it makes you feel, I’ve still done it. Computers just make it too easy.
Now I am trying to fully purify myself with a new, positive attitude. I’m trying really hard to become a friendlier person by getting involved with community groups, and my church.
So what can we do as parents?
1) Make sure your child is ready for social media. According to Facebook rules they should be at least 13 before creating an account and there is importance in honorng this rule. Your teen needs to be more emotionally prepared so that their emotions are less likely to be swayed by social media. And, once they are on they will be hooked. Common Sense Media reports “Online social networking has become such a prime form of communication that 51% of teens admit to checking their sites more than once a day and 22% check theirs more than ten times a day.”
2) Encourage your child to consider how every word they type impacts their character. It's important to think before they post, ESPECIALLY in the cyber world where joking and emotions aren't clear. Use nice words.
2) Before allowing your children to create a social media account talk to them about the prevalence of online bullying or, if they are already on, share with them this news story to open dialogue and create trust about the topic. Encourage them to talk to you right away if they feel attacked. And, if they are being bullied be sure to report it to the school.
4) Remind your children what a friend is. They would not hang out with someone in their day to day life that was threatening them so they certainly don't need to put up with it online. Let them know that if someone is wrting hurtful things they should report it and then "de-friend" or quit following them.
5) Make sure that you are your child's friend so that you can see their wall and what they are being tagged in. Times have changed and today this is an additional parenting responsibility necessary for watching/protecting our children. Talk with them about anything that causes alarm.
6) Pray. You can't force your daughter or son to tell you everything, but you can show them that you care, talk with them LOTS, and pray over them.
Teens often feel alone or embarrassed when walking through this experience. Showing that you care and opening conversation and a safe place to discuss "what is new" on their social networking sites and how it impacts them will go a long way.
If you need additional resource help in your home, Pam and I's new book "Who's In Your Social Network" will bring new awareness to you and empower your teen to handle this sadly common experience. You can order here.