When Your Child is the Cyberbully: Expert advice from Dr. Elizabeth Englander

We know that there is a lot of information available giving suggestions on what to do when your child is on the receiving end of cyberbullying. It is much harder, however, to find good advice on what to do when your child is the one engaging in cyberbullying behaviors. We particularly appreciated, therefore, Dr. Elizabeth Englanders Q&A piece on what to do When Your Child is the Cyberbully in The New York Times on Tuesday (June 29, 2010).

Dr. Englander is a professor of psychology and the founder and director of the Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Center at Bridgewater State College.

Why we particularly appreciate her response:

  • She grounds her answer in research
  • She provides practical solutions that can be used right here, right now (we are sure parents/caregivers will really appreciate this)
  • With that said, she makes it clear that there are no quick fix solutions to cyberbullying, but rather encourages parents/caregivers to engage in an ongoing dialogue with their children about this behavior. Moreover, she provides useful suggestions about how to go about doing this, such as have your child read about and discuss cases relating to cyberbullying [her article provides links], and encourage them to learn more about it by researching the topic (this would be a great opportunity for some reciprocal learning have your child show you how they would go about researching this online, for example).
  • We also appreciate Dr. Englanders very realistic depiction of how these conversations might go both with your child and any subsequent communications with the parents of the target of the cyberbullying. They may be uncomfortable conversations to have, and may not go always go quite as wished. The important thing is that you are having those discussions.

Our Editorial: Thanks, Dr. Englander, for providing such an insightful, compassionate piece. It helps for parents and young people to know that they are not alone in this and have a network of supportive, caring people behind them.

In this regard, we also particularly appreciate the work of Alison M. Trachtman Hill, MPA, founder of Critical Issues for Girls. Alison makes some really great points about the challenges of labeling young people as cyberbullies, cybervictims, bystanders. In her work, she focuses on ways to:

describe the behavior, rather than label or categorize the individual. So, rather than, you are a bully it is you are exhibiting bullying behavior in this situation or your behavior is aggressive in this situation. Framing it in this way helps adults focus on the behavior rather than on demonizing the actor, and it also makes the point to kids and youth that the behavior is problematic and needs to change, not that the person is bad, evil, etc.

Alison notes that she is

very careful never to call a person a victim, but rather a target – again, you are the target of this behavior – since labeling them a victim is counterproductive and, in [her] opinion, disempowering beyond any validation if could possible give to the individual. [She] also thinks that the idea of a target lends itself to a situational analysis, rather than the role of victim, which more often becomes a character trait. Finally, [she] only uses the term witness to describe the third role, rather than bystander in the English language, the word bystander is almost always modified by innocent as if the happenstance that led them to be privy to the situation absolves them from any responsibility to get involved. Plus it has become a really passive role. Witness, on the other hand, is an active role, an empowered role – everyone watches enough court TV or Law and Order these days to understand the importance and potential power of a witness. Plus, it meshes well with [her] one-liner about concerns about being a tattle-tale and [her] suggestion to use the verb report instead of tell, Telling is getting someone into trouble, while reporting is getting someone out of trouble. The idea of reporting seems to bring this to a level of seriousness and importance that “telling” just doesn’t have.

Thanks, Alison. You make some GREAT points. Thanks for bring this to our attention. Your suggestions provide a much more useful and productive way for adults and youth to think/talk about cyberbullying rather than labeling people as cyberbullies/victims/bystanders.

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