Rachel looked at the small screen with horror. The same, anonymous message had appeared on her phone for the past three days. Her picture appeared alongside four other girls from her school, and the caption underneath read:

See pictures of the five ugliest kids

At Tremont Intermediate School.

Vote for the ugliest by clicking here.

Her smartphone had been weaponized, used as an instrument of hate to war against, and to diminish, her vulnerable, sixteen-year-old spirit. Her brain immediately triggered a “fight or flight” response, with an accompanying rush of blood to her major muscle groups. Her body tensed up; and, deprived of normal blood flow to her brain and stomach, she felt a slight headache and no appetite for the breakfast she knew her mother was preparing. Even much worse than the physical trauma was the devastating emotional pain. The feelings of shame and humiliation seemed almost unbearable. She desperately wanted to skip school that day but knew that her mother would insist she go. Sick at heart, she thought, maybe it’s time to tell Mom about this.

It’s important that you encourage your child to tell you immediately if she is being cyber bullied. Assure her that you will help her and that she doesn’t have to suffer alone. If you discover that your child is being cyber bullied, there are several things you can do:

  • Discourage your child from responding to the cyber bullying.
  • Instruct your child to block communication with the cyber bully and to not pass along any cyber bullying messages.
  • Tell him to share the words or pictures with you (so you can save them as evidence) and then to remove the painful message(s) from his computer.
  • Try to identify the person(s) doing the cyber bullying.
  • If the cyber bullying is taking place through the school’s internet system, the school has an obligation to prevent it. Contact the school for help.
  • Consider contacting the cyber bully’s parents. If you do decide to contact them, do so in writing or over the phone—not in person. Present evidence of the cyber bullying (for example, copies of email messages), and ask them to put a stop to the cyber bullying.
  • Contact the police–and possibly involve an attorney–if the cyber bullying contains items such as threats of violence, child pornography, sexual exploitation, or a picture of someone taken in a place where she would expect privacy.

If your child is being cyber-bullied, it’s important to not be a passive by-stander. Get involved in stopping it. Cyber bullying campaigns usually are not successful without the help, intended or not, of other children who read and respond on the site. And, if given an anonymous method of reporting cyber bullying, kids can put an end to it. Parents can make sure that school officials and community groups provide a way (usually a website) for children to easily and anonymously report bullying.

We must teach also our children that remaining silent when another person is being hurt is not acceptable and that they must take action to prevent cyber cruelty from taking place. As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

Dr G

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