How Can I Help Teens Who Are Victims of Cyberbullying?

Mary E. Muscari, PhD, CPNP, APRN-BC

Disclosures

October 25, 2010

In This Article

Interventions for Cyberbullying

Clinicians play an important role in the identification, management, and prevention of cyberbullying. Clinicians can[17,18,19,20]:

  • Develop awareness of the various types of communications tools used by their young patients.

  • Assess for cyberbullying during routine wellness exams and when youths demonstrate signs of victimization. Since they may not even be aware that they are being victimized, clinicians can ask questions such as, "Has anyone use the computer, telephone, or other device to upset you?" or "In what ways are you bothered by text messages, emails, or other electronic forms of communications?"

  • Determine how the cyberbullying is affecting the youth and validate her feelings.

  • As you would with all teens, assess for sexual preference and how this fits into their self-image, and assess for depression and suicidal ideation. If suicidal ideation is present, conduct a lethality assessment and refer as appropriate. Empower youths to handle cyberbullies. Because bully motives vary, there isn't a single way to deal with all cyberbullies. However, clinicians can encourage youths to delete unwanted or unidentifiable emails without reading them, not respond to instant messages or text messages from bullies, and report the problem to their parents or teachers.

  • Foster strong self-esteem and social skills to better enable victims to ward off the effects of cyberbullying.

  • Encourage parents to be supportive during this difficult time. Additional support for the child and family can come from clergy, school counselors, or individual therapists.

  • Encourage parents to stay informed: know what their children are doing and who they are communicating with. Parents need to talk with their children and keep the lines of communication open so that their children will feel comfortable telling them if they are experiencing cyberbullying. Persuade the bullying victim's parents to keep a log of the malicious activity. If their child is intentionally harmed by a peer, the parents may have an avenue for civil action against the parents of the offending youth in some jurisdictions. Threats and stalking behaviors may also warrant criminal action. Should threats be made to the child or personal information be posted on the Internet, parents should take immediate action and contact law enforcement.

  • Encourage parents to get involved in their children's virtual world:

    • Establish ground rules. Children should be courteous in both face-to-face and cyberspace interactions.

    • Keep computers and other interactive technical devices within view. It may also be helpful to keep cell phones out of bedrooms at night (something that may also improve sleep patterns by reducing midnight text-messaging, bully-related or not.)

    • Make sure their school has an Internet safety program in place.

    • Model appropriate behavior when using technology and in face-to-face interactions.

    • Use filtering or blocking software but be aware that tech-savvy children can easily get around them.

  • Realize that cyberbullying often becomes a 2-way street. Discourage children from retaliating by becoming bullies themselves.

Finally, clinicians can become activists and advocate for anticyberbullying, healthy socialization, and conflict resolution measures in schools. Many of the resources and some of the references noted in this article can provide additional information to work with school systems to minimize cyberbullying and its effects.

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