I admit I was hoping to never get an email like this from the school:
“Some students in your child’s class have been involved in inappropriate online behaviour. Our Student Resource Officer will be doing a presentation on cyberbullying and leading a discussion about responsible actions on the internet. Please speak to your child about his/her activity online.”
Sigh. Why couldn’t it just be head lice?
To protect privacy, I won’t go into detail about what exactly happened, but I will say this: a chat group was formed, not using school resources; bad things were said about a particular teacher; and my own daughter, age 11, was a member of the group in question. She’d joined the group when invited, using the tablet she owns for homework and video games.
I sat her down as soon as she got home for a talk, and it went really well. Luckily for me, my youngest is a complete open book – she shares every detail about her life with me and, as far as I know, is incapable of lying or bending the truth in any way. (In fact, I kind of wish she weren’t so quick to rat me out to her dad when it’s me who ate all the cookies.)
I was pretty sure she’d been in the chat group where rude things were being said, but without accusing her, I asked her what happened and the whole story quickly poured out. I was cheered to hear she had done what she could to try to stop what was happening – telling others to stop, and trying to figure out how to block some members with technology.
But I was also sad she’d tried to handle the whole situation on her own. We talked about how when something happens online that is confusing or upsetting, she should bring it to me right away. I assured her I’d help her find a solution and we could talk about her feelings and try to make things right, without getting anyone in trouble. I told her she didn’t need to handle online problems alone.
And of course, we went over some guidelines about what is and isn’t appropriate online. It seems to me, though, that she knew what was and wasn’t right – but she wasn’t sure what to do about it when things took a wrong turn. At school, they talk about actions to take to actually stop bullying – saying no, telling a teacher, being an active bystander. Online, it’s maybe not as clear what actions you should take, especially when it’s a private chat group, not directly related to the school.
Even for me, I’m not sure we can boil down situations like this to a few simple steps that would apply in every situation. It’s a new world for her and for me. But letting her know we’d figure it out together, and she can come to me for support and understanding, is at least step one.
We’ll have to just figure it out from there, with some help from trusted sources
Have you ever found your kids in a tough online situation? How did you advise them to handle it?
Impact! How to Make a Difference When You Witness Bullying Online is a suite of resources for kids, parents and teachers, that helps provide practical tools to make a difference when witnessing cyberbullying.
Check out the following Impact! resources:
- An interactive decision-making tool that helps kids choose effective strategies for intervening in different cyberbullying situations
- Our parents’ guide, Helping Our Kids Navigate Cyberbullying
You can also check out the workshop Raising Ethical Kids for a Networked World, which examines some of the moral dilemmas that kids face in their online activities and shares some strategies to help them build the social and emotional intelligence that’s needed to support ethical decision making – and build resiliency if things go wrong.