Cyberbullying continues to be a hot button topic for parents of youth and teens. The parents that I work with frequently request suggestions in dealing with this prevalent issue. While there is no universal solution, research and my experience shows that the best ideas are the simple ones, like sitting down to eat dinner as a family a few times a week.
I believe in the power of a family dinner and all the families I work with are encouraged to have dinner together.
Sitting down to a Family Dinner
There is a body of research that shows the simple practice of having a family dinner can protect kids from the harm of cyberbullying. Why is this? Because the child is able to have face-to-face time with their parents where they can openly discuss what is going on in their lives. Frank Elgar, the lead researcher in a Wisconsin study on the relationship of family dinners and cyberbullying explains: “The more contact and communication you have with young people, the more opportunities they have to express problems they have and discuss coping strategies.”
Parents Can Listen and Offer Solutions
Specifically, when dealing with the issue of cyberbullying or any type of bullying, parents can let their child know that the situation is not their fault. There are many resources available for parents who want to dig a little bit deeper into how this conversation might sound. In Foster Cline and Jim Fay’s book, “Parenting with Love and Logic,” there is a section on bullying which could work for cyberbullying as well. They explain how parents can explain that being teased (or bullied) “doesn’t mean that there is something wrong [with their children] but that it’s a problem the other children have.” This strategy can be effective because many children who are victims of cyberbullying often feel isolated and internalize the situation, thinking that they must be the cause of the problem.
While family dinners are helpful in creating that open line of communication with your kids (since everyone is somewhat captive at the table for at least 20 mintues), the concept expands beyond the dinner table. Some parents are able to have quality conversation time in the car. Others may find themselves engaging in chats at home over the weekend, when schedules are more flexible.
Foster a Relationship and Be Available and Interested
The point is to foster a relationship with your children that invites them to talk to you--about anything and everything. This is a process. Conversation may not immediately lead to discussions about serious issues and that is okay. You are sending the message that you are available and interested, and when and if the time comes to engage in some serious chats, your kids know they can come to you.
Tips to Get Started
Kathryn Boortz has a passion for working with youth and their families. She is the founder of Boortz Law, a law firm that focuses on juvenile defense.