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Bullycide: Learning from a Tragedy

Here, pediatrician Dr Ari Brown gives excellent advice to parents addressing this disturbing topic (see link at end of post), in the wake of a 15 year old girl who committed suicide after being bullied in person, on Facebook, and via text messaging.

Dr Brown’s article is worth reading, but I’m going to take her advice one step further.  This story made headlines, but there are countless cases of cruel and dangerous behavior that social media seems to propagate.  For one, it’s scarily fast and easy to rally forces and encourage others to join in, and two, it’s “faceless”.  Empathy is developed by the ability to tune into another’s emotional state, and this is fed, honed, and fine-tuned by eye contact, body language, and verbal feedback between two people.  Without the face-to-face contact, these inhibiting emotions are limited (especially in developing adolescents), and the bullying takes on a game-like quality.  Children and teens who would not normally bully might do so in a social media setting, and those with poor social skills might not even realize it’s hurting someone.

Additionally, I’ve seen dozens of cases where an impulsive teen has posted something provocative (sexually or otherwise, and sometimes without realizing it) which starts a chain of events leading to a disastrous outcome.  Here’s a short list: sexual molestation, rape, burglary (of homes from addresses being given out),  identities/locations revealed of minors who were supposed to be under protection, and organization of “revenge” plans for feeling slighted by a love interest.

For these reasons, if you are at all suspicious of social media/emails/texting behaviors, I’d advise to protect your child and simply forbid it.   Aside from school avoidance and other signs of being bullied that Dr Brown mentions,  look for chronic stomach and headaches, frequent aches and pains, weight loss or weight gain, mood swings, crying easily, and trouble sleeping.

Err on the safe side in these matters and do not worry about your child being upset that their “social life is being taken away”.   They’ll thank you later, and typically within a few days will replace the time spent  with something healthier.   If you go this route, block or restrict all access to these sites and if you feel your child is trying to go around this, remove laptops and desktops from their bedroom (where they don’t belong anyway.)   Repeatedly explain you are protecting him or her, and that it’s not a punishment.  Validate that they feel a little lost without it, but move on.  Spend more one on one with your child, or make an effort to support healthy social activities with their friends.   You can also give them a special treat or outing and tell them your proud of them.  In a way it’s similar to drugs- many children feel relief when someone takes a firm approach and protects them out of love.

Because I’ve worked with children who were abused, we’d generally take these precautions since these children were at high risk of being victimized, and I’ve never seen this negatively impact the child’s popularity.  It just doesn’t, and the kids who don’t use social media are probably a healthier group anyway, so your child may end up naturally weeding out some bad seeds.  It may cause some friction between you and your child, but this too shall pass.

Feel this is too strict?  I don’t.

I’ve seen the ugly side.

Bullycide « Child Health 411.

Resource for kids:   http://www.childline.org.uk/Explore/Bullying/Pages/Bullying.aspx