Why kids cyberbully and what to do about it

Saturday, January 22nd, 2011

Kim Fredrickson, MFT, Roseville, Ca

So you are facing a cyberbullying crisis. While it can feel like you are powerless to stop it, remember that it is in times of crisis when your role as the parent and your connection with your child can be strengthened.

Kim Fredrickson is a marriage and family therapist in Roseville, California.  She specializes in helping parents connect with their children in meaningful ways, to promote a home that is more like a sanctuary as a basis for personal security.

“Cyberbullies act out their own anger, powerlessness and they pretend to be more powerful or aggressive in fantasy, than they are [off-line]…[believing they will not] get in trouble in real life,” Fredrickson said, “Most of the time the cyber bully has no idea how damaging, violating, and even scary his/her actions are. So it is healthy to set boundaries so you are not harmed by the actions of another…[especially] in cyber world.”’

Bullies are insecure people acting out. It takes a victim mentality to initiate or allow bullying. So this guidance is equally important for parents of bullies.

Being secure in one’s identity (i.e., my talents, values, beliefs and my role in the family and friend communities) is the crux of the matter when it comes to cyberbulling prevention and intervention. A child committing or experiencing cyberbullying is an opportunity for strengthening your role as the parent, to help your child to develop a stronger recognition of their identity and capacity for personal security.

What can a parent do?

Fredrickson’s tips for parents:

  •  Even before any incidents, work on an emotionally close relationship with your kids. You want to be the safe haven they turn to when they are struggling or in trouble.
  • If your child comes to you with an online concern, stay calm. Kids often won’t come to a parent if they think you will overreact. Don’t forget to do some deep breathing and slow yourself down.  Share the strength of your concern with another adult, so your child doesn’t feel they have to take care of you.
  • Be supportive. Realize that this type of verbal abuse of words can be very damaging…don’t sweep it under the rug.
  • Talk to your child/teen about how valuable they are, and how they deserve respect. Let them know you don’t believe the things that are being said, and teach them that they can set a boundary with those trying to harm them…whether it be with a real life encounter, texting, or online experience. In these situations they can feel powerless, but that isn’t true.
  • Problem solve ways they can handle this themselves (block a phone #, or e-mail address, etc); ignore for a short time to see if the bully loses interest, etc.
  • Pull in resources as needed. Let the school know so the school counselor/teacher can keep an eye out for in-school bullying and for how your child is handling things. If more help is needed, you may want to notify your child’s Doctor, counselor or clergy for support. Be there to give love and let them know you will help them walk through this. It helps so much for them to know they don’t have to handle this alone.
  • Stop Cyber Bullying www.stopcyberbullying.org offers advice on what to do simple solutions don’t work.


When to involve officials at school and law enforcement

First be honest about the real physical and emotional threat to your child. If you see that harm to your child escalates, then your actions need to escalate.

Taking care of family business at home

Prior to engaging authorities at school and community, contact the parents of the student (s) involved in the bullying. Even the bystanders’ parents may be engaged. Appeal to the good nature of people, and you may be pleasantly surprised.

It will be important to communicate to the parents of the bullies you want to give everyone an opportunity for a way out with dignity before it escalates to involve more people, cause more harm and require school and law enforcement authorities. Parents of bullies are more likely to be defensive if they perceive that their child will become the focus as the bad guy.

Remember, bullies are “victims too”. They justify their actions like a victim.

Searching for the high road for everyone is the best possible outcome to hope for — so the children can move on, corrected – with a better understanding of how secure, confident people handle issues, transgressions of others, personality conflicts, disappointments, and concerns.

The disconnect persists…

"Cyberbullying is vicious. Bullies and victims need help." -- Detective Steve Emert, Twin Rivers Police Department, Sacramento Couunty, Ca.

If the parents of the bullies and bystanders are not willing or able to form a united front to guide the children to the high road, and the bullying persists creating daily crisis living for your child, and the other remedies in your power (counseling, support, etc.) are not sufficient to quell the bullies’ efforts, then you need to involve the school and possibly law enforcement.

Or perhaps the cyberbully is anonymous and you have no way of dealing with the people behind it. Then you will need the help of school and law enforcement.

Detective Steve Emert, with the Twin Rivers Police Department in Sacramento, California is a cyberbullying expert. “Cyberbullying is vicious,” Emert said.

That feeling of anonymity, and no personal accountability for one’s actions can cause kids to loose any sense of decency, compassion or inhibition.

According to Emert, in his area the schools handle most of the cyberbullying, except when it escalates to threats of bodily harm or other safety concerns.

More on Cyberbullying intervention


Cyberbully hints for parents to set healthy boundaries

A Parents’ Guide to Cyber Citizenship


Joanna Jullien jullien@surewest.net

Photo: Christy Benz

Joanna married her high school sweetheart and over the past 25 years they have raised two sons in Roseville, CA. She has a degree from UC Berkeley in Social Anthropology (corporate culture) and has over 20 years experience as a professional manager in information technology, manufacturing, energy and environment.

Joanna writes on parenting in the 21st century, as she has observed and personally experienced many strains on the parent-child relationship with the advent of the Internet, mobile phones and popular culture. 



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About Joanna Jullien

Joanna Jullien

Joanna (jullien@surewest.net) and her husband have raised two sons in Roseville, CA. She has a degree from U.C. Berkeley in Social Anthropology (corporate culture). Her honors thesis was awarded the Kroeber Prize and funding from National Science Foundation grant. Joanna writes to help parents with the modern-day leadership challenges of raising children. She is a contributing writer for The Granite Bay View, the Press Tribune, the Sacramento Examiner, and editor of Banana Moments.