When I was in fifth grade, I was a peer mediator at my public elementary school. While I only mediated a handful of cases, they were pretty standard as far as our training went—a smaller child was tired of being picked on by a bigger student on the playground and eventually lashed out. My fellow mediators and I would talk through the situation with them, and they would leave on peaceful terms. But now, decades later, this bullying situation seems oddly simple.
As a fifth grader, I was lucky to have just gotten an AOL Instant Messenger account. After school, my friends and I would write nonsense messages to each other back and forth, using the screen names we were lucky to have—the ones fitting the strict parental specifications of no identifiable information, like names and athletic jersey numbers. Today, 56% of children ages 8 to 12 have cell phones, according to the National Consumers League. While this has a number of positive benefits, constant connection with others on the internet can come with a darker side: online bullying.
Ross Ellis, founder and CEO of STOMP Out Bullying, says online bullying is the "willful and repeated harm inflicted through the use of computers, cell phones, and other electronic devices." Her organization is dedicated to reducing and preventing bullying, cyberbullying, sexting, and other digital abuse, among other things. Ahead, Ellis shares five things parents of children who have experienced online bullying should do to help.
Reassure Your Child That You Love and Support Them
In online bullying incidents where children or adolescents use technology to harass, threaten, humiliate, or otherwise hassle their peers, "It’s important for parents of those who are bullied to prioritize reassuring their child that they are loved," says Ellis. Take extra care to show your love and support.
Help Your Child Step Away From the Computer
"When you give your child a computer or digital device, don't just give it to them and walk away," Ellis says. "Have conversations often about being respectful and responsible online." When others don’t measure up to those standards, encourage your child to take a break from online activities.
Communicate With the Bully's Parents
Since online bullying involves minors on both sides of the conflict, this means the bully has a parent or guardian, too. If parents can identify the bully, they can consider talking to the bully's parents. But as Ellis's website recommends, "Parents often can get offended when they hear bad things about their child, and it needs to take place in a neutral environment."
Contact Your Kid's School
"If bullying is happening online, it might be happening offline, too," Ellis says. STOMP Out Bullying recommends obtaining your child's school's bullying policy and scheduling a meeting with the principal to proactively tackle the issue before it worsens.
Empower Your Kid With Specific Steps to Take
"Teach kids never to respond to negative posts," Ellis says. "Instead they should delete the person and block them. If the posts are threatening, they should print out posts and give to parents to bring to law enforcement."