I recently read a heartbreaking story about a young girl who committed suicide after being cyberbullied. Her parents were in the process of suing the school system for not doing enough.
As a parent, I cannot begin to fathom the pain her parents are going through and I can only imagine how badly they want (need) to hold someone accountable. Whether the school could have or should have done something to prevent this situation remains to be seen; I don’t know enough about the facts to make a judgement call on that one way or another. But after working for over a decade in U.S. public schools as a school counselor, I can tell you this for certain: school personnel can only do so much to protect their students from cyberbullying. Parents must take a primary role in making sure it gets reported to the proper authorities and that their child gets the help s/he needs.
Here are 5 things parents must do as soon as they become aware of cyberbullying.
- Notify school personnel. I have personally witnessed many situations where parents say that the school has “done nothing” in bullying situations but after investigation, it is found that no one ever reported it. The school can’t help something they know nothing about. Sometimes, parents leave it up to the student to tell—and often the student never gets around to it (for various reasons, one of which is that they don’t want to “snitch”). It’s critical that as soon as parents become aware, they make the school aware.
- Make sure that nothing is erased or deleted (or at the very least, make sure that there are screen shots taken immediately). It is critical in these kinds of situations that the texts, pictures, social media posts, etc. remain on the device so that school administrators (and law enforcement) can have evidence.
- Speaking of law enforcement, it is a good idea for parents to file a police report even if they are also notifying the school. It’s difficult to know what has taken place on school grounds versus not, and in many cases, because minors are involved, cyberbullying rises to the level of criminal activity so it should be reported (e.g., sending nude pictures of minors to someone else, threats of harm, etc.).
- Keep in mind that the school may be taking action against the bullies but privacy laws prevent them from telling you what they are doing to whom, and what the outcome is. It can be frustrating for parents to be told, “We are taking action but we can’t tell you what,” But it’s the law.
- Immediately get some help for the teen being bullied. As in the case of the poor girl in the news, many kids who are being cyberbullied feel helpless and hopeless; and when they perceive there is no hope is when they are at the greatest risk for suicide. It is critical that they have immediate access to someone they can open up to and get some constructive help so they can learn how to deal and cope emotionally. If a private therapist is not available, school counselors, school psychologists or school social workers are excellent resources. (But again, if they don’t know, they can’t help.)
Rest in Peace Mallory.