Battling Girl Bullies

Another bullying suicide hit the news recently: a 12-year-old Florida girl, Rebecca Ann Sedwick, leapt to her death after enduring a year of cyber taunts and threats perpetrated by a group of 15-year-old girls at her Lakeland school.


This case follows the high-profile 2010 suicide of Phoebe Prince, a 15-year-old Massachusetts girl whose six schoolmates were charged in her death.  In Chicago earlier this year, 14-year-old Cynthia Rodriguez killed herself in a park near her home after being bullied on Facebook.


Cases like this - all too common these days - twist the gut of every parent.  We have got to stop this vicious girl-on-girl cyber bullying.


But how?


1. Educate yourself about your child’s technology usage.


Today’s bullying is not the clique-sniping we faced as teenagers. Most girl-on-girl bullying today takes place virtually.  Text messages, Facebook, and other social media sites are all cyber “playgrounds” that are not well monitored by parents or teachers.


So first, even though most teens demand device privacy, as a parent it is important to insist on occasionally taking a peek, despite the howls of protest. Sunshine is the best disinfectant, and if your kid knows you will be looking, some of the potential for abuse is undercut right there. Tell your beloved child what you are doing and why, which should engender a productive conversation about appropriate use of technology.  If it gets ugly, your trump card is that you paid for the device and you have a moral responsibility to know what is being posted and witnessed there.


Another trick: ask what sites are popular.  Sometimes I give the excuse that so-and-so’s younger kid wants to join a new site, and I need to give my friend advice. The key is to do this only once in a blue moon - randomly and without advance notice.  This cuts the chances that your child will feel hounded and motivated to hide certain sites. You can respect their privacy -- while also insisting on transparency.


2. Educate yourself about bullying.


If you just read one book, I recommend Odd Girl Out by Rachel Simmons. The book decodes, with a great deal of sympathy towards victims and bullies, the social pressures and psychological competition behind girl-on-girl bullying.  Surprisingly, most bullies target their friends - the girls immediate above or below them on the perceived social “ladder.” The last thing you want to do is demonize the bully - she is rarely pure evil - or assume that the victim automatically dislikes her.


3. Take her side but don’t fight her battles.