A Parent’s Guide to Dealing with Cyberbullying

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ModernMom interviewed bullying expert Peter J. Favaro, Ph.D., a psychologist, author, educator and CEO of New York City Conflict Resolution Services. Because cyberbullying is running rampant, we asked him to focus on this unfortunate phenomenon. Here are some important pieces of information you should know about cyberbullying and how it affects your kids

What is cyberbullying and why is it so harmful?

Cyberbullying is when kids are insulted, ostracized, embarrassed and humiliated using technology as the vehicle through which this happens. The internet is “virtual space” and virtual space differs from “real life space” because it is “infinitely compressible.” What that means is that in a real life 100 by 100 ft. room, only a finite number of people can occupy it, but in web space, tens of thousands of people can occupy it. The internet, phone technology, SMS’ing and even emails are one-to-many and many-to-many mediums. Not only that they are multi-media mediums. So, twenty years ago we only had to worry about teens influencing teens by staying on the phone with one kid for hours on end, and they usually had to be at home to do it. Today, kids interact with dozens, even hundreds of kids at a time, all day, every day, even during school. This leaves kids open to all kinds of social interactions that are undesirable including cyberbullying and cybersexploitation (where predatory people encourage kids to text sexually oriented content to one another and then distribute it).

What are some ways to prevent cyberbullying in my home?

One of the universal parenting challenges for all parents is showing kids how to “put on the brakes,” moderate themselves, take it easy, slow down. If you don’t set limits, this just doesn’t happen. How about these simple rules?
(1) No technology after 8 PM (all cell phones go in a box by the door).
(2) Pay as you go phones — when your minutes are up, your minutes are up.
(3) Texting limits. If you go over the limit, you pay for the overage and you lose the phone for a month.

Should kids be allowed on social networking sites, like Facebook?

Yes, and that is a firm yes. However, children need to earn their time on FB by showing good behavior. I always tell parents that they should start by telling their kids if they want a FB account, parents must have their username and password to it and the ability to check it. As time goes by, they can earn their privacy. Also, all computers should be out in an open part of the house. Cell phones must be readily available for inspection as well. That is the ONLY way I would permit a child of 13 to have a FB account. You can have the account, but the privilege of privacy must be earned. This, by the way, is true of all teen privileges as far as I am concerned. The proof comes first, followed by the privilege. End of story.

What form of bullying is most common and most harmful?

The most common type of bullying is that which aims to hurt the self-esteem of others by character assault, gossip, psychological control and/or manipulation. This is very damaging to children who might be sensitive and fragile. Many children suffer from being called names or being presented to the peer group in an unfavorable or humiliating light. I can think of no way of making a child more immune to this kind of behavior than by making sure you communicate with your child, finding a reason to praise your child every day, and making “I love you” a part of your daily chatter with your kids.

About the Author

Peter J. Favaro, Ph.D. is a forensic and clinical psychologist whose practice has focused on kids and families for the last twenty five years. He is the author of more than a dozen books on child and teen psychology, parenting, divorce, anger management and conflict resolution. Peter is a frequent guest on major television shows and has put together The Rubber Ducky Posse to help educate kids parents and schools about bullying. You can download free materials, parenting eBooks and the Coping With Bullies Manual at www.rubberduckyposse.com

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