When I was in Middle School so many years ago, I was bullied to the point of skipping school on a daily basis. I absolutely hated middle school. I would especially try to avoid catching the bus because that was where the most intimidating and hurtful bullying occurred.
I hated the bus. Yet, what I hated more than the bus, was the way that a handful of very foul-mouthed 7th grade girls made me feel about myself. Ugly. Dirty. Stupid. Short. Dumb. Poor. Among other things. The truth was, I was not always bullied on the bus. In fact, I actually became the new target the moment I stood up for someone who was being bullied. So much for being a hero. I had good intentions but it ended in a very traumatizing couple of years.
On campus, I was also bullied, but not quite as severely once I found my niche in the art and music world. However, regardless of how much bullying one receives, it still affects a kid’s perception of self-worth – it definitely affected mine – and we all know that one’s perception of self-worth plays a very vital role in an individual’s success. But at the end of the day, once I was off campus, away from the bus, and safely home, I was fortunate enough to escape bullying until the following day.
That’s where cyber-bullying is different. Unlike typical bullying, cyber-bulling can occur anywhere and at anytime; 24 hours, 7 days a week; it does not matter whether we are sleeping or if we are awake. Interestingly, we might not even be aware that we are the subject of cyber-bullying until after something has already been posted. Worst of all, the effect of this type of bullying is in essence, instant. As in, instant gratification gone bad. This is partly because of the mobile devices that allow cyber-bulling to be in our pocket. Literally.
Cellphones, tablets, computers, and laptops make cyber-bullying possible.
4chang, YouTube, Music.ly, DubSmash, Instagram, and SnapChat, are just a few venues that partner up with technology to help to make cyber-bullying possible.
Back in my day, it was Xanga and MySpace – social media was just getting started and I was able to escape the opportunity of what many of my 6th grade girls are having to face everyday.
Social media is where a large majority of middle school kids spend their days. It is a common form of entertainment for most kids ages 11-18. However, it is also a haven for thriving bullies. When you can hide behind words and/or photos on a screen anonymously, there’s very little a cyber-bully wouldn’t do. Unfortunately, cyber-bullies have quick access to a wide-audience with minimal effort required. The witnesses of harassment and inappropriate behavior is no longer limited to students in a hallway or on the bus, but rather the World Wide Web becomes the audience.
“One notification can push an average kid to a suicidal one”.
I’ve seen it happen near the end of my middle school years and my younger sister, who is currently in 8th grade, sees it daily. She tells me stories about kids coming to school hiding secrets on their arms by use of long-sleeved shirts. She also tells me stories of her classmates who carry around notebooks filled with suicidal and depressed thoughts because they are discouraged and considered pariahs by their peers. These are the same middle schoolers you would never expect to hurt themselves.
These are your kids.
Technology is very useful and so is social media. They alone are not to blame. Personally, I enjoy having the opportunity to connect and reconnect with friends and family across the world. However, both technology and social media are double-edged swords. For instance, while instagram can be used to inspire individuals to travel and explore the world, when used as a tool for cyber-bullying, it can push preteens to hide and withdraw.
According to StopBullying.gov some of the effects of cyber-bullying include:
- Skipping school
- Poor grades
- Low self-esteem
- Increased health problems
- Use of alcohol and drugs
Yet another reality is that most kids who are cyber-bullied also experience in-person bullying. This means that these students are bullied both on and off campus.
So what do we do? To put very simply (and I stress “very”) these are three things to consider:
First, we need to let our middle schooler know they are loved. We need to remind them of their self-worth; their worth in the eyes of Jesus. We need to remind our middle schooler that bullies are often bullies because they are unhappy with an aspect of their life that appears to be perfect in another’s.
It is amazing how much a student’s confidence level will change if they know they are loved, supported and safe. The security that a child feels will also to help open the flow communication in regards to what social media accounts are being abused.
Secondly, we need to honestly communicate with our student about the situation and determine if they are being cyber-bullied or if they are the cyber-bully. Surprisingly, many students don’t realize that they maybe the cause of someone else’s pain and perhaps, even someone else’s scar. Sometimes kids do not realize that they are being mean until someone else points it out. Once this position can be identified, the steps to resolution become a little easier to distinguish; address the cyber-bully or apologize to the bullied.
Lastly, let the child be involved in the healthy resolution process. As much as I have a distaste for bullying, I encourage students to solve their own problems or at least be apart of the resolution. This one instance of bullying will most-likely not be the last. In which case, children need to be able to problem-solve effectively. Without being apart of the resolution process (i.e., be it going to the Principal’s Office, having a parent-teacher conference, speaking to parents directly, or even direct messaging an account on social media) the cycle of bullying is more likely to repeat itself without any resolve. Do not fight your child’s battle – teach them how to be champions themselves.
Middle School is a difficult place and kids can be mean. Very much so. However, by teaching our middle schoolers how to resolve issues such as cyber-bullying in healthy manners, we help to equip and prepare them to solve issues of harassment and inappropriate behavior when they are adults. Otherwise, we ensure the development of adults who are broken and face difficulty in loving themselves. In this way, we are able to remind our students about their worth while also teaching them how to stand up for themselves in the right way. We build children who can problem-solve as well as remain confident in who they are.