One of the worst feelings as a parent is when your child reports that they're being hurt, and you can't think how to help them. Realistically, it isn't always possible to completely stop another child from ignoring or hurting the feelings of others (Chapter 23). When you're looking for something to do to help, try to draw a distinction between acts that only focus on changing another child's behavior, versus actions that focus on supporting your child, increasing their resiliency, and reinforcing positive feelings and supportive relationships (Chapters 16, 23). You may or may not be able to stop mean or rejecting behaviors; but you can always help your child learn to cope, and increase their resiliency by reminding them how much you and others love them. Research with targets of bullying suggests that that's the most effective response that adults can make (Chapter 24, 19).
Sometimes myths can interfere with our ability to respond effectively. Chapters that can help include those about understanding that bullying doesn't always lead to horrific consequences; it doesn't always hurt targets badly; and chapters about the most effective ways to respond can increase your confidence and knowledge as a parent.
Help if your child is being cyberbullied
In ways, cyberbullying can be an even more upsetting problem than traditional forms of bullying. If your child reports that they're being targeted online, you're not only anxious to resolve and stop the mean behavior; you may also feel intimidated by the medium. But take heart. Most of the ways that you can help your child deal with cyberbullying have nothing to do with social media, gaming, or any other form of digital technology.
First, it's important to realize what are the characteristics of cyber-problems that make them truly problematic. Not all cyberbullying is emotionally devastating (Chapter 12), and cyberbullies are not always kids who hide behind anonymity (Chapter 11). What's more, kids themselves aren't as brilliant at technology as we tend to think they are; they're comfortable but not particularly knowledgable (Chapter 9). There are effective ways to address cyberbullying, beyond reporting the problem to the app or website. Did you know that it's often the case that kids who are being cyberbullied are also being bullied at school (Chapter 8)? There are definite ways that schools can help support targets of cyberbullying (Chapter 19). Knowing all this can help increase your self-confidence in dealing with problems online.
Understanding bullying better
Bullying and cyberbullying are tricky problems, not least of which because they're easily confused with other types of social problems between kids. Bullying is not normal; it's not good for you; and it shouldn't be simply accepted as a normal part of childhood (Chapter 4). But some types of social cruelty can be. For example, you can't learn how to make and maintain friendships without also learning how to resolve fights and quarrels constructively. And the world will always include people who may say or do something hurtful in a cranky or thoughtless way; learning to cope with those zingers without disintegrating is a key life skill.
All of which makes understanding bullying trickier. Bullying is hurtful, but it's different from fighting with a friend or enduring one mean zinger. It's an ongoing campaign by a more powerful person, designed to deliberately make their less powerful target's life a misery (Chapter 17). And it can be very impactful. But what makes bullying even more difficult to understand is that under some circumstances, it doesn't always have such an impact on the target (Chapter 14). Another complication about bullying is that it can, in some situations, be almost impossible to stop (Chapter 20); how do you stop someone who laughs at you with a group of friends in a crowded hallway every day (Chapter 5)? Confronting or "making up" can work well with fights, but don't work so well with bullying (Chapters 21 and 24). But there are productive solutions, and they all have to do with paying attention to the target, instead of to the bully (Chapters 23, 26)!
Avoiding bullying and cyberbullying
Is it possible to completely avoid social cruelty while you're growing up?
Of course not. But fighting and random mean remarks aren't the same psychologically as bullying and cyberbullying. As we grow up, we all have to learn to deal with people, even difficult people. That means learning how to resolve a fight without destroying the friendship, and learning how to shrug off, or at least cope with, upsetting incidents and remarks. But bullying is different. It takes more effort to get past it.
There is some language in the bullying prevention field about taking steps that "guarantee" that either bullying won't happen or that it won't matter if it does. In good conscience, I don't see how anybody can make such a guarantee. Social media and digital technology have made it more likely that almost any type of child might be a target someday; it's no longer the case that only the small or weak become victims (Chapter 5). By its nature, bullying is often more hurtful than fights or mean remarks. But there are definitely ways that you can help your child respond that may increase their strength and resiliency (Chapters 9, 22, 23, 26). The idea is that if someone does try to target them, they will want to talk with you about it and you'll be able to help them come up a with a strategy that will really help (Chapter 26). The goal is to increase your knowledge and self-confidence and enable you to really help your child!