Ask Dr. Z
By Laura Zipris, Psy. D., LMHC
Dear Dr. Z.,
I just found out that my son and his friends went on a social network site to vote for “The ugliest girl in their middle school.” I’m not positive how the “contest” originated, but I am so upset and disappointed that he and his friends would participate in such a mean-spirited activity. I feel so sorry for the girl that they targeted. I did not raise him to treat others that way and I am not quite sure how to handle this. Should he be punished? Should I report him and his friends to the school? Or, should I chalk this up to normal teenage behavior?
Disappointed and confused mom
Dear Disappointed and Confused Mom,
I certainly understand how upset you are that your child participated in the embarrassment and torment of a fellow classmate. This form of internet bullying, termed “cyber bullying” is quite prevalent with school aged youngsters and it is done using a range of technologies, including email, text, chat rooms, social networks sites, etc. In some ways, cyber bullying can be more destructive and cause more damage to a person’s psyche than traditional bullying, in that there is no escape for those who are being victimized and their humiliation is made public to the masses. Cyber bullying has been linked to so many negative consequences for teens such as suicide, school violence, school failure and school avoidance.
Given this, cyber bullying is clearly a very serious offense and one that definitely needs to be addressed with your son. I would recommend that you start by first educating your son about the consequences of cyber bullying and how devastating it can be for the victim. Reinforce to him that even if he didn’t initiate the bullying, by his participation or even by his complacency, he has become an inadvertent cyber bully. We all need to teach our children that silence, when others are being hurt is just not acceptable. Martin Luther King Jr. said it best when he stated, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”
Offer your son your support and give him suggestions on how to handle such a situation in the future. Though it is a tall order, encourage him to take a stand with his friends to let them know that he won’t be a party to cyber bullying. Further, encourage your son to solicit your help if he is ever targeted himself or if he feels powerless to stop the bullying of another.
As a parent, you may also want to also consider contacting the school administration at your son’s middle school to apprise them of what is going on. (This can be done anonymously if you so choose). Many schools have bullying programs in place and have adapted specific policies and procedures for handling cyber bullying.
Lastly, it is important that moving forward, you establish very clear rules and expectations with your son about the use of technology both in and out of your home.
Laura Zipris holds a doctorate in Psychology and is licensed to practice psychotherapy in New York, as well as in Florida. Laura is certified in Imago Relationship Therapy, a transformational approach that has been used successfully with couples around the world to help them to strengthen their partnerships, deepen their connection and reignite their passion for one another. Laura sees individuals of all ages and sexual orientations, couples, families, and groups in her offices located in Wellington and Delray Beach. In addition to her psychotherapy practice, Dr. Zipris works part time as a licensed school psychologist for the Palm Beach County School District.
For more information about Laura, please visit her website at www.drlaurazipris.com or to set up an appointment, contact Laura directly at (561) 558-7815.
Questions for this column should be sent to Dr. “Z” at Drlaurazip@gmail.com