It’s heartbreaking to realize that your child has been bullied, but it hurts all the same to be on the other side — when they’re the very one bullying. According to experts, teens who become victims are more likely to become bullies themselves. And today, it’s not just the taunting in school playgrounds or the locking up in bathroom cubicles that make for intimidating acts. The Internet, particularly social media, has been used for name-calling, gossiping, shaming, among many other threatening behaviors.

Even though bullies do these horrible things, it’s important to understand that they need help, too. If you discover that your child is a cyberbully, here’s what you can do:

Allow them to reflect

The first and most crucial step is to tell them outright that what they did is unacceptable, and that’s regardless of the scenario. As you do this, make sure to put yourself in their shoes, considering that they’re not mature yet to realize how they could’ve hurt their peers. Expect to hear some excuses for their actions. They might say they spread the rumor because everyone else is doing it or they called someone names because it made them look cool.

When they give justifications, that’s your cue to teaching them an important life attitude: empathy. Ask them to reflect on their actions, what might have been its impact on someone’s life, and what they would feel if it ever happened to them. If they refuse to talk about their mistakes, consider suggesting a therapist. Have them talk to a psychologist or a spiritual leader in your church.

Teach social media responsibility

parent lecturing son

Many parents are surprised at the vulgarity and rashness of the language their teens use when discovering their online activities. If there’s any consolation here, you should know that this behavior is common. Teens tend to go wild and rude when posting on social media because being behind the screens and just typing words feel like they don’t necessarily harm other people. It’s not said to someone’s face directly, after all. Again, you should be able to make your teen realize that words have power, regardless of the medium used to convey it.

Aside from empathy, your child should learn duty and responsibility when going online. Some academic institutions offer elective courses that explore the fundamentals of social media, which may very well include the etiquette and ethics of it. Encourage your child to pursue such a high school course. Gilbert, AZ-based teachers say that this could help also in their careers later on.

Be clear about what you want to achieve

Of course, the primary thing you want to get from this intervention is for the bullying to stop. But you know that there are lots of layers in this issue that needs to be addressed, like the victim’s feelings or your teen’s perspective of social relationships. That’s what you want to be clear about. When you say the bullying has to stop, does this mean they posting a public apology and going to the victim personally? Does it involve talking to the victim’s parents, or being willing to undergo guidance counseling sessions from school?

Communicate the specific changes you would want to see in your child’s behavior. For all you know, they could be insincere and just felt the need to delete their harmful posts because it’s the fastest way to get out of trouble. Your goal is to make them experience genuine change in this intervention. Work closely with the teachers of your teen’s school.

The fact that you acknowledge that your child is a cyberbully is already half the battle. A lot of parents choose to ignore the red flags often, precisely because they love their teens too much. If you care about your child, you know that discipline, tough love, is more important than tolerance of bad behavior.

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