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Cyberbullying: Identify the Signs & Protect Your Kids

November 18, 2013 7:00 PM with Dr. Benjamin Shain

Thanks in part to the reach today’s technology, bullying doesn’t necessarily stop once your child walks through the front door. Cyberbullying is an extension of traditional bullying that takes place using electronic technology, from email and texts, to messages on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. It can happen anywhere, anytime and often with very tragic results. Benjamin Shain, MD, PhD, Child-Adolescent Psychiatry at NorthShore, will answer questions on cyberbullying and bullying. What’s considered cyberbullying? How do you know if it’s happening to your child? What are the signs your child is being bullied or bullying another child online? What can you do to protect your children? Submit your questions early.

Brenna (Moderator) - 4:49 PM:
Our online medical chat--Cyberbullying: Identifying the Signs and Protecting Your Kids--will begin at 7 p.m. You can submit questions now or at any point during the chat. For those unable to attend the chat, a transcript of the chat will be made available shortly after.

Dr. Benjamin Shain (NorthShore) - 7:01 PM:
Welcome to the chat on cyberbullying. I'm glad to be here to increase awareness of this major public health problem.

Dr. Benjamin Shain (NorthShore) - 7:02 PM:
Bullying has been defined as having 3 elements: aggressive or deliberately harmful behavior 1) between peers that is 2) repeated and over time and 3) involves an imbalance of power, e.g., related to physical strength or popularity, making it difficult for the victim to defend him or herself. Behavior falls into 4 categories: direct-physical (e.g., assault, theft), direct-verbal (e.g., threats, insults, name-calling), indirect-relational (e.g., social exclusion, spreading rumors), and cyber. The 2011 Youth Risk Behavior Survey of students in grades 9 through 12 in the United States indicated that during the 12 months before the survey 22.0% of girls and 18.2% of boys were bullied on school property, 22.1% of girls and 10.8% of boys were electronically bullied, and 6.0% of girls and 5.8% of boys did not go to school 1 day in the past 30 because they felt unsafe at or to or from school.

  Deb (Evanston) - 7:02 PM:
My son has been in trouble for picking on kids before. He's 13 and he has a phone. He also has a facebook page, which I try to keep a close eye on but you can only do so much. How do I talk to him about what is okay and not okay? What do you say to make sure they understand the consequences of bullying, even online bullying.
Dr. Benjamin Shain (NorthShore)
You make an excellent point that you can only do so much in terms of monitoring. Bullying is like other issues, we try to guide and do so little by little to avoid having adolescent ears closed to our "lecture."

  Deeann (Skokie) - 7:08 PM:
How can you tell the difference between kids just having fun or having minor skirmishes with each other and actual cyberbullying? My daughter is a teenager and I know she texts sort of inappropriate things every once in awhile. I don't want to have to start policing everythign she sends. When should you be concerned? When should you get the other parents involved?
Dr. Benjamin Shain (NorthShore)
Note one of the accepted definitions of bullying: Bullying has been defined as having 3 elements: aggressive or deliberately harmful behavior 1) between peers that is 2) repeated and over time and 3) involves an imbalance of power, e.g., related to physical strength or popularity, making it difficult for the victim to defend him or herself. So, look for repeated aggreessive or harmful behaviors involving an imbalance of power. That said, there is little you can do to monitor without being highly intrusive. Some teens need this but most do not.

  Vicki - 7:11 PM:
What is the best way for schools to handle cyberbullying when they find out about it? Is it different from the way they would or should handle regular bullying?
Dr. Benjamin Shain (NorthShore)
Excellent question. There is little difference in consequence between cyberbullying and the face-to-face variety. Schools are in a unique position to intervene. Parents are limited in what they can do and most bullying does not meet the threshhold for legal involvement. My belief is that schools should handle all bullying as bullying.

  Jenny (Winnetka) - 7:17 PM:
I organize ScreenBreak, an annual community event sponsored by The Alliance for Early Childhood. In addition to encouraging families to seek out alternate activities to screens, we hope to help educate about how screen usage affects the whole family. Can you speak to how parents' use of screens impacts children? i.e. How can we set healthy examples that could contribute to less negative, and potentially bullying, situations. Do you recommend any specific "House Rules"? Thank you!
Dr. Benjamin Shain (NorthShore)
I think the most important thing is the basic message that you imply, which is that children learn more by example than what we tell them. I don't think we can have rules that apply to all (e.g., limit screens to X hours per day) as there is wide variation in needs and abilities of both parents and children. However, parents should consider rules when usage becomes excessive (e.g., seems to limit other activities) and redirection is not effective. How to handle bullying (as both victim and bully) can be modeled by example, as well, with parents talking about how they handle electronic situations as they arise.

  Ted (Chicago) - 7:24 PM:
How closely should you watch the way your kids use their facebook and phone? Is it going to far to ask to see messages they send and recieve?
Dr. Benjamin Shain (NorthShore)
Another excellent question. Think of how you supervise kids in face-to-face interaction. Most kids navigate going to and from school and participating in class with some, but very limited, parental supervision. some need much more. Electronic situations seem to be something that parents could supervise much more closely as they are often with the child, or at least in the same house, when the communication occurs. Nonetheless, even if monitoring could be done (children find ways to circumvent even tight-sounding rules), the monitoring is typically experienced as highly intrusive. In addition, studies have shown that electronic communication is used heavily by children for support; close monitoring interferes with that. So, yes, for most children it is not recommended to see all messages.

  Maria (Skokie) - 7:32 PM:
Is it actually more safe for kids not to have a Facebook and other sites? Would not spending so much time online make things better? Is there an age range for being okay to have kids with facebooks.
Dr. Benjamin Shain (NorthShore)
For most kids, electronic communication is not only the way they stay "in the loop" with their friends, but it is also a main way that they obtain social support. Taking this away protects them (and sometimes that is necessary) but it also denies them avenues for normal social and emotional development.

  Monica (Evanston) - 7:37 PM:
If your child is on the receiving end of a cyberbully's actions, how should they respond? Should certain things be ignored? When should they seek an authority figure's help?
Dr. Benjamin Shain (NorthShore)
First thing is to encourage them to bring in a parent for advice. I can not emphasize enough, though, that I mean advice and not control. As soon as the parent clamps down on communication or takes unwanted action the child learns to never again bring the parent in. Of course, as you point out, it is often best to ignore bullies. An authority figure is useful when the actions are repeated and damaging.

  Pat (Oak Park) - 7:46 PM:
My daughter is 13. She's at that age where she just won't talk to me about anything. After that girl killed herself in Florida, I asked her if she had ever been picked on by other girls in school. She avoided the qeustion. What should I be looking for if she won't talk to me? Are there ways to get her to talk to me again?
Dr. Benjamin Shain (NorthShore)
First, be patient. You may need to wait 10 years for her to mature, but typically waiting for her to talk to you and just being there for support works faster (it may feel like 10 years, though). Second, look for signs of depression: overt sadness, angering more easily, isolating more, decline in grades, less interest in seeing friends and other activities that had been considered fun. Some of this, such as isolating more, you may see as a consequence of normal development. When it is sudden, however, or combined with other problems consider a mental health evaluation.

Brenna (Moderator) - 7:52 PM:
There are 10 minutes left in this chat. Please submit final questions. We apologize if we are unable to reach all questions during this one hour period.

  Nadine (Wilmette) - 7:53 PM:
My son was bullied when he was in middle school. He's in high school now and his school has called to tell me that he is now often aggressive with other kids. How do I handle this situation? I'm shocked that he would behave this way after being treated like this himself.
Dr. Benjamin Shain (NorthShore)
Kids are commonly both bullies and victims. Unfortunately, being a victim may teach them that being more powerful than another is very important, which predisposes to later bullying. Talk with him about it and consider a mental health evaluation if the behavior persists.

  Erick (Highland Park) - 7:57 PM:
As a parent, should you talk to your children and the parents of the other children involved before getting the school involved if there is bullying and online bulying going on? Should the schools be told right away. What is the best way to handle it for the kids?
Dr. Benjamin Shain (NorthShore)
Being a victim is typcially highly embarrassing in and of itself. Consider interventions first that are less of a "deal" as long as they are effective at stopping the bullying. On the other hand, bullying involving threats or encouraging a child to kill themselves should go to authorities immediately.

Brenna (Moderator) - 8:01 PM:
Thank you everyone for your participation in our chat this evening. I apologize that we were unable to answer every question tonight. A transcript of this chat will be made available shortly.

This chat has ended.

Thank you very much for your participation.