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tips-to-help-your-children-with-cyber-bullyingSince our move from Connecticut to California, I have been traveling back and forth to visit my oldest, who decided to remain on the East Coast and finish out high school. My other three children, including my high school junior, decided to move with us. When it came time to move, she was sad to be leaving not only her sister, but also her best girlfriends and her boyfriend.

Fast forward two months: I decided to return to CT for my daughters’ Senior Night swim banquet festivities. My younger daughter pleaded to join me, cementing her case with the lament for her friends and her sister. As a mom, it was a hard decision. Would this emotional seesaw be good for her? Would she want to return to California with me when the departing wheels of my flight separated from the East Coast turf she had grown to love? On the other hand, maybe she would realize that she really did enjoy her new home and California friends. 

Looking back, I am experiencing parenting remorse. She arrived in CT with high expectations, anxious to spend time with the friends whose pictures had adorned her room. She would shadow her sister in school for a day and surely the band would be greeting her at the door to play a tune. 

"Tears of Joy Turned to Tears of Sorrow"

Unfortunately, she experienced the opposite. When she returned home she found out that her boyfriend was now someone else’s boyfriend- her close friends’. The town had been abuzz about her return, but not in the way she had anticipated. The love between two friends had soured and what started as love, crossed the fine line to hate once jealousy entered the picture. In school, instead of the warm welcome, many in her group had decided to pledge their loyalty to the girl that would always be in their hometown. Not understanding how this could happen, my daughter was isolated and tears of joy turned to tears of sorrow. 

You Are Only as Happy as Your Child...

They say you are only as happy as your "least happy" child. As a parent, I was devastated as I watched my daughter unravel. Like yesterday, it was 1980. I was in Freshman Hall, one lonely footstep after another, feeling the pain of my own best friends abandoning me. Yes, it happened over a boy. Now a grown woman, I recognized that this was a part of my child’s journey and knowing she would come out on the other side stronger and wiser. As a mom, I simply held her and allowed her to pour her emotions into my open arms. 

Bittersweet, life has a way of turning sweetness into sorrow and then back around to moments of joy. The circumstances 25 years later were the same, however there was one major difference: Social Media.

Tweets, Facebook, and Instagram changed the game. Girls being girls, flashed pictures of the new couple all over Twitter. They sent my daughter pictures flipping her off with captions that read, “shout out to my daughter.”  Several friends labeled the girls town bitches when they fought to defend themselves. With each nasty flash that went across the screen, the other kids in school had opportunities to “favor” the ugly tweets.  

Empathizing with the pictures and faces of victims shown on National television, now I could see the devastation that cyber bullying was having in thousands of teen homes across the country. I began researching cyber bullying, reading about  teens like Alexis Pilkington, the 15-year-old Canadian girl whose video chronicled years of bullying in school and online, that lasted up until her death when she committed suicide.  

Teen Cyber Bullying Facts

Apparently, cyber bullying was more prevalent than I had realized. More than half of all teens have been bullied online and do not tell their parents when cyber bullying occurs. Day after day, my kids come home and share that another teen has exposed themselves with "selfies" or pictures of themselves without clothing. 

I had considered my family “teflon.” My kids were always popular. As a mom, do I get involved? Do I contact the parents? Responsibly, I had her “defriend” all the girls that were clearly not her friends. The phone and the computer got packed in the suitcase. Ill-equipped with suggestions, I turned to online resources for support. The message was to have open communication and dailogue with your teen in order to encourage them to share information if this should happen to them on their websites or cellphones. As parents, we must emphasize the importance of not sharing any passwords or personal information/photos. They need to understand that what gets shared online is permanent. 

Everloop Support

In an effort to find further suggestions, I  reached out to Hilary Decesare, Digital Child and Parenting Expert, and co-founder of Everloop, a website that offers kids and tweens a protected space where they can connect with friends, express themselves, play games, and collaborate on projects and special talents. 

“One of the best ways to help with cyber bullying, is too start with kids when they are young. If they learn proper skills when they first start using the Internet, the more likely to be responsible digital citizens as they are older. Cyber bullying can start innocently with one comment and can turn into a life changing ordeal.”

Hilary went on to share that she had started Everloop.com to give kids under 13 a safer, bully-free environment where they can communicate with friends and others who share their interests. She overlays this environment with privacy and moderation technology that helps teach kids important skills they will need for the open Internet, including blocking words and behavior that is inappropriate or hurtful.  

“Most the kids on the site are good kids, but even good kids make mistakes. Everloop catches those mistakes, such as bad words or sharing their address, and lets kids know they can’t do that, before anyone else sees them. This practice helps teach kids appropriate digital behavior, before they go on the open Internet where risky behavior can have serious ramifications. Of course there are some kids who start off with risky behavior, and if they do that, they are not allowed to participate on the site. So they learn right away that inappropriate behavior ends up making them left out.” 

As for my family, now we are back in California. My daughter’s friends here gave her a warm welcome. It’s unfortunate that she had to go through this, however I know that she, like I, will always remember how important kindness is in life, take care of those less fortunate, and emerge on the other side stronger and ready to take on life’s challenges when they emerge.

For more on this story, and others, check out Life with Wendy

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