It’s important for parents to understand their role in creating a safe school-climate and in helping young people receive needed support. One way to increase this understanding is for parents to be aware of effective cyberincident response and intervention.
Young people who chronically fall into the role of bully and/or victim—whether online or offline—are signaling that they are "stuck" and in need of understanding, support, and/or intervention. In order to effectively intervene, the family, school, and mental health leaders should work together to consider a psycho-educational and/or psychotherapeutic plan that will address these problems. They will also need to answer the following questions:
A parent, school administrator-or whichever stakeholder is present when an incident is underway- should immediately do the following:
Once the behavior has been stopped and all parties are in a quiet, safe place, speak separately with each involved party to learn about what happened. These conversations are not simply fact-finding missions—they are your first opportunity to offer each young person (whether bully, victim, or bystander) the support he or she needs to heal from this incident and move toward a greater sense of safety.
As much as we want to "solve" this or make it better for the victim, your most important role—at least for now—is to listen and understand. By listening to the victim, you help him or her feel less alone, less overwhelmed, and less scared. Doing so will also give help you understand how deeply the he or she has been affected and what feelings and thoughts the situation has triggered. Listen, listen, listen.
After you’ve talked with the victim and he or she has begun to settle down, ask the victim what he or she needs and wants. Let the victim know that feelings abut being bullied sometimes come in waves. It is important for victims to know that it is okay—and terribly helpful!—to give voice to whatever they are feeling and thinking.
Although your first impulse may be to chastise or punish the bully, your most important role at this point is to listen and understand. Remember that bullying behaviors signal that a young person is troubled. Bullies are often targets of bullying at home or in their neighborhood, or they are struggling with very negative feelings about themselves for any number of reasons (such as difficulty with learning or social relations). Bullying is certainly both unhelpful and unacceptable as a way of coping with troubles, but it should be read primarily as a cry for help. At a later point in the process, one of the interventions with this young person may involve teaching more productive, acceptable strategies for dealing with such emotions. But for now, again: Listen.
Although the focus tends to gravitate toward the victim and the bully, there has been a growing awareness over the past several years that young people who witness bully-victim behavior are adversely effected, too.
One of the most important ways that we can understand and address the needs of young people who witness bully-victim behavior is to periodically talk about it in public settings, whether through advisories, classrooms, or assemblies. In some schools, administrations have organized town meetings in which a bully talks about his or her behavior as a way of promoting healing in the community. This can be a powerful and helpful step but should be attempted if and only if it is carefully coordinated with and supervised by mental health professionals.
Just as we need to listen to the young person involved, we also need to listen to ourselves. Such an incident may touch on challenges of your own. If you feel anxiety around such incidents, it is important to talk to a counselor or mental health professional about it.
All parties involved will need ongoing support. Being bullied can be wounding and traumatic. Although we typically do not see an actual physical wound, young people need to "clean" the social and emotional wounds that bullying can cause. Caring adults can promote the healing process by encouraging young people to give voice to the range of feelings and thoughts they have about the experience. Listen, listen, and listen in caring ways. As painful as it can be for victims to talk about these experiences (and as painful as it can be for adults to listen), it is much more complicating and problematic when these feelings, thoughts, and memories go underground.
Eyman, W. & Cohen, J. (2009). Breaking the Bully-Victim-Passive Bystander Behavior: Creating a Climate for Learning and Responsibility. New York, NY: National School Climate Center (http://www.schoolclimate.org)