Terrified of Kids Online
by Mary Follin and Kristi Crosson
THE PROBLEM: There are some kids (boys and girls) who are picking on my daughter, mostly online. I’m physically sick about it. I know this is supposed to be about my daughter, but I don’t know how to deal with the situation. It’s like these otherwise decent kids have turned into one big monster. I’m terrified of them, and I’m the grownup! Needless to say, my daughter is devastated. Her pain is beyond what I can describe. They’ve given her a code name so they can talk freely about her and act like it’s not a real person. The worst part is, it all started when my daughter didn’t text another girl back for a couple of days, and the girl decided to cut her off. For this minor infraction—my daughter didn’t even see the text—she’s now going to have scars for the rest of her life. I need some ideas but I don’t know where to turn.
MARY SAYS: This is one of the toughest issues to respond to. Social media has created a virtual “Lord of the Flies” mentality where kids are in charge, and it’s frightening. Seemingly ‘good’ kids morph into children we hardly recognize. (Given a few more years to mature, they probably wouldn’t recognize themselves, either.) Hidden behind the curtain of online platforms, kids are trying to impress their peers, control someone who is more vulnerable, or exact revenge, often times with little understanding of the long-term impact on their victims—and themselves.
You are clearly a caring parent who sees how lovable your daughter is. Unfortunately, at her age, it can be challenging for her to see how lovable she is. Add to that the abuse she is suffering at the hands of so-called friends, and I imagine her ability to draw on her own power has been severely compromised.
While there is a lot of advice online that addresses cyberbullying (helpful resources, btw, please check them out), I’m going to offer a different way to think about this. What if, in an ideal world, any one of us could read something negative about ourselves online, and it didn’t hurt? What if we were immune to external judgments and created a habit of looking inside to determine how we felt about ourselves?
After all, online shaming doesn’t necessarily end at graduation, does it? Developing an internal sense of one’s own superhero status would be a desirable character trait to develop as soon as possible.
Yeah, right, you might be thinking. Great idea. But how do you become your own superhero? Especially if you’re at such an awkward age and your self-esteem has bottomed out?
To be honest, the first step is hard. Before one can see the superhero in themselves, they must see it in all human beings, which won’t be an easy thing to do, given your daughter’s current life experience. This is where you come in. By engaging in the following exercise, you can help your daughter develop a fresh perspective on her world and the people in it.
Start by encouraging your daughter to find superheroes everywhere she goes. Make it a scavenger hunt! The postwoman, the bank clerk, the kid who rings up your M&M’s at a local convenient store. Tell your daughter she will find superheroes in everybody’s eyes; all she has to do is look.
The good news is, when you do this simple exercise, it boomerangs. Each time your daughter looks at someone as though they were special, those eyes will look back at her in the same way—looking past the exterior, into the heart of who she really is. NO ONE can resist the pull of that kind of human response. True power comes from opening one’s heart to the possibility of love wherever you go.
Once your daughter gets used to seeing others in this new light, she will begin to see it in herself. Encourage her to stare in the mirror and really look for the fascinating human being in there. (Try it yourself—you’ll see! In fact, you may want to start with your daughter’s tormenters, which will help ease your fear of them. You don’t need to do this in person—just picture it.)
Your daughter’s light will shine wherever she goes, but only if you shut down the computer and actually go somewhere. The best thing you can do for your daughter right now is encourage her to engage in real-world activities. Thankfully, groups are getting together again after our year of isolation, so there are many, many places—theater groups, camps, martial arts studios, volunteer organizations—for your daughter to make the world—and herself—blindingly bright.
KRISTI SAYS: Online bullying is a terrible thing. It causes so much damage that can take years to reverse. Kids hide behind their screens writing the most horrific things and sadly, many get away with it. The good news is that you know it’s happening and can do something about it. The bad news is, your daughter is hurting and even you are feeling overwhelmed by the situation. It’s hard to imagine a world where people would say or do these things to people face-to-face.
When I was in junior high school, a group of girls bullied me incessantly. It started when they told me there was a boy who liked me, and it escalated from there. Newsflash, he didn’t; the girls had set me up. I remember running to the bathroom in tears just to hide from them—I wanted to die. Then, they went so far as to make death threats against me. When my mom finally figured out what was going on, she contacted the school. Let’s just say, after the administration had a talk with those girls, they never bothered me again. Some of them wouldn’t even look at me for fear of what would happen if they were even suspected of being mean to me.
Let’s call this “picking on” your daughter thing what it really is. It’s harassment and bullying, and something needs to be done about it. Many schools have policies that penalize students for harassing and bullying other students. And while you say they’ve given her a “nickname,” there is most likely evidence she is the one they’re talking about. I know you feel overwhelmed and have no clue what to do, but there are steps you can take to protect your daughter from further psychological harm.
If you know the parents of these kids, it might be a good idea to sit down and have a conversation with them. Take your emotions out of it as best as possible and do your best to express that you assume the best of their kids. Realize that kids can get caught up in the moment online without understanding the impact of what they are saying and doing. Then show them the messages. If nothing happens—or the parents get angry at you—take the next steps.
Contact the school. Sit down with an administrator and show him or her the messages. Again, do your best to express that you think the kids are good kids, just getting caught up in what the group is doing. If the administrators do nothing about it, the matter could become a police level issue depending on the severity of the bullying.
As a last resort, take your daughter out of school. Send her to a different one or homeschool her, at least for a while. Your daughter’s mental health is far more important than staying in the situation and ‘muscling’ through. Remove access to her social media profiles temporarily while you both seek counseling and a resolution for this abuse. While this sounds harsh, her access to reading these things online can have devastating effects.
You have power, Mama. You can do the right thing by your daughter, and while you may feel scared of these kids, you have nothing to fear. Your daughter is relying on you to help. Take it one step at a time and do the hard things necessary to protect your daughter from further harm.
ASK MOM offers parents two perspectives on today’s child-rearing issues—one from a mom with grown children (Mary), the other from a mom raising small children (Kristi). If you’re looking for creative solutions, or your mom isn’t around to ask, drop in!
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Kristi Crosson is a freelance writer, homeschooling mom of three children, and author of Healthy Mom Revolution, a blog that offers insights on healthy parenting.