August 13, 2018

Back to school: Dealing with cyberbullying requires understanding

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Knowing when and how to step into a difficult situation is the problem facing parents when their child becomes the victim of cyberbullying, says a Purdue University assistant professor.

The electronic harassment ranging from emailed messages to social media posts becomes a likely problem for parents who are dropping a cellular phone into their child’s backpack for the first time this school year.

Kathryn Seigfried-Spellar, an assistant professor in computer and information technology, said parents need to understand that technology for youths sometimes is the only communications line to friends. And they are desperate not to lose it.

“Kids are usually not going to be forthcoming with issues of cyberbullying because they’re afraid of losing their technology,” she said. “As difficult as it is to believe, some teens would rather continue to be cyberbullied than have their Facebook page taken down or Instagram account shut down.”

As a result, parents have to look for signs indicating something is wrong in their child’s life. Those signs can range from showing up late to school and dropping grades to social changes, such as not hanging out with their friends any more.

Seigfried-Spellar said parents should be cautious about being overly suspicious regarding what is happening in their child’s life.

“The more hovering that occurs by parents, and more privacy that gets violated, all you’re going to do is push that kid to start using apps that the parent doesn’t know about,” she said. “That’s why it’s better to have communication set up with a level of trust to say you can always come to me.”

Seigfried-Spellar said a “technology contract” works well to set boundaries about how a cellular phone should be used and what the parents expect as well as a promise to respect the youth’s privacy. Parents also should have access to passwords for social media accounts.

Ironically, youths who are the victims of cyberbullying are likely to become a cyberbully, taking out their emotions in retaliation against the bully or against someone else.

Parents should be proactive in talking to their kids about cyberbullying. But in situations where cyberbullying occurs, parents should be aware of the victim’s emotions and shouldn’t immediately try to place blame.

“A lot of times parents will not respond in a way the child was hoping for and that’s why they don’t tell anyone,” Seigfried-Spellar said. “It becomes the ‘what were you expecting conversation’ with parents saying you started it, you shouldn’t have sent out that text or you shouldn’t have started that rumor.”

Instead, once parents know the child is emotionally OK, they can tackle the issue of the bullying itself.

“Then you can always go back and say we understand this happened, now let’s talk about how to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” she said.

More information on cyberbullying is available at http://www.cyberbullying.org

Writer: Brian L. Huchel, 765-494-2084, bhuchel@purdue.edu 

Source: Kathryn Seigfried-Spellar, 765-494-2439, kspellar@purdue.edu

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