"Cyberbullying" occurs when a child, preteen or teen is tormented, threatened, harassed, humiliated, embarrassed or otherwise targeted by another child, preteen or teen using the Internet, interactive and digital technologies, or mobile phones, according to stopcyberbullying.org.
In last week’s column, I shared the story of Caitlyn Haynes, a beautiful young teen with a promising future who hid years of suffering from bullying from her parents and friends. Despite all of her great accomplishments and all her plans for the future, Cait tragically ended her own life because she was unable to cope with the ongoing bullying.
Sadly, Cait’s story is not unusual. Today, suicide is the third leading cause of death for people ages 15 to 24, making it critically important that we understand potential warning signs, and that we know what to do if we suspect someone is being bullied.
Some parents might think their kids are safe from cyberbullying because their kids don’t have smart phones, but today kids have access to the Internet at an early age via tablets and computers: they use them for schoolwork, as well as to share information with friends and family using social media. Even without a phone, parents need to know that kids can be at risk for bullying.
Bullying comes in many forms, from physical altercations to name-calling, teasing, spreading rumors and cyberbullying. Teens can be bullied because of their appearance, dress, academic ability, disabilities, hobbies, their social status, or even their parents’ standing in the community. Kids and teens who are bullied typically have low self-esteem and poorer academic performance; overall, they struggle harder to succeed.
So how can parents tell if their child is the victim of bullying—physical, cyber, or both? The same symptoms apply whether bullying is in person or online. If your child’s grades plummet, if your child disconnects with friends, quits activities he or she has enjoyed, doesn’t want to go to school or is suddenly “sick enough to stay home” much of the time, it’s time to ask your child what’s going on. Let your son or daughter know that there is nothing too terrible to share with you, whether it’s drugs, sex, violence, or something else. Promise them (and yourself) to listen to their opinions without judging.
Parents need to know that we must take all forms of bullying seriously. When adults respond quickly and consistently to bullying behavior, they send the message that bulling will not be tolerated. Research shows this can reduce and even stop bullying behavior over time. The website www.stopbullying.gov provides a number of tips for adults to use to stop bullying:
Intervene immediately. It is ok to get another adult to help.
Separate the kids involved.
Make sure everyone is safe.
Meet any immediate medical or mental health needs.
Stay calm and model respectful behavior when you intervene.
Avoid these common mistakes:
Don’t ignore it. Don’t assume kids can work it out without adult help.
Don’t immediately try to sort out the facts.
Don’t force other kids to say publicly what they saw.
Don’t question the children involved in front of other kids.
Don’t talk to the kids involved together, only separately.
Don’t make the kids involved apologize or patch up relations on the spot.
Get police help or medical attention immediately if:
A weapon is involved.
There are threats of serious physical injury.
There are threats of hate-motivated violence, such as racism or homophobia.
There is serious bodily harm or sexual abuse.
Bullying affects kids in many ways: some lose sleep or feel sick; others withdraw. A few will even consider suicide. To overcome bullying, it’s important that teens know what bullying is and where they can turn for help.
If you’re a teen feeling hopeless or helpless, or you know someone who is, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). They understand bullying and are there to help those victimized by it.
As always, our mission at UPD is simple: to make Ukiah as safe as possible. If you have any suggestions or comments about how we can improve, please feel free to call me, complete our online survey, or leave a crime tip on our website: www.ukiahpolice.com.