One in Four…

Raising awareness about issues related to domestic & dating violence

“…not about a show of force but a show of presence” December 14, 2010

The recent increase in attention to cyberbullying has left many parents confused and frustrated. The New York Times recently published an article, “As Bullies Go Digital, Parents Play Catch Up,” that offers us some understanding of how parents may address the issues of safe uses of technology as well as cyberbullying.  Perhaps one of the strongest points the  article makes is that because cyberbullying is an evolving practice that takes so many forms and affects children in so many ways, it is important that parents know their children. Some tips to keep in mind

  • Pay attention to your child’s moods and their willingness to talk openly about friends and school. Changes in behavior may hint at a deeper issue.   Also, knowing your child will allow you to handle a case of cyberbullying more effectively, whether your child is the victim or the bully.
  • Along with knowing your child, know what you’re giving them. If you plan on giving them a cell phone familiarize yourself with the phone and its applications. Phones are no longer just phones but “mini computers” as the article puts it.  Consider laying down some ground rules for the technology you supply your child with i.e. handing the phone over to you at 10:00 pm or making sure it is off when the child is doing their homework.

The article also attempts to guide parents to address the issue as it arises.  For e4xample, parents often mistakenly assume that the awareness of and punishment for cyberbullying falls into the hands of their children’s schools. Schools, however, already dealing with limited resources, are more often than not shrugging the “off-campus” matter back to the parents.   Parents may find the following model script from the article helpful if their child has been bullied: “I need to show you what your son typed to my daughter online. He may have meant it as a joke. But my daughter was really devastated. A lot of kids type things online that they would never dream of saying in person. And it can all be easily misinterpreted.”

A Nashville man’s daughter was a victim of online bullying until he intervened.

What is most important in this model is its tone. Rather than coming off as accusatory or angry, the language here explains the problem calmly without making a judgment about the bully or his/her parents. This is crucial because it allows the parent to be a model for his/her child instead of perpetuating the cycle of violence and showing the child that violence, physical or verbal, is the way to handle conflict.  Parents undoubtedly have the largest potential to be an advocate for their children when it comes to cyberbullying.

But what if it is your kid who’s the bully? The article also offers a wonderful example of a mother explaining what is wrong with bullying by bringing it to her daughter’s level. In the specific case mentioned, the mother asks her daughter if she would want someone to harass her puppy but a similar approach could be used by asking the same question about a favorite doll, toy or even friend. Using this method, parents are not only expanding their own child’s understanding of bullying as a problem but also creating the possibility for their child to stand up against bullying amongst his/her peers. Like all violence, cyberbullying should be taken seriously. It’s not just “kid stuff.” It is hurtful and its effects can be long lasting.

If you or someone you know is experiencing cyberbullying, you are not alone. We are here to help. Call our 24-hour hotline at 919-929-7122. We will be happy to listen and work with you to find helpful resources within our community. For parents of middle aged children participating in the Start Strong program, education does not have to end with our program. Ask your child what they learned, if they know anybody who had been affected, or any question to open the door for future dialogue. If this topic is of particular interest to you we encourage you to volunteer as a community educator at FVPC.  Our next training session begins in January.

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“Textual Harassment”: The Unforeseen Consequences of “Sexting” November 10, 2010

Allyson Pereira, now 21, says she was a victim of digital dating abuse in high school.

On October 26th, CNN.com ran an article which told the story of Allyson Pereira, a 21-year-old woman who is still living with the consequences of a single text she sent more than five years ago.

After weathering a blitzkrieg of cruel MySpace comments, instant messages, and e-mails from her high school boyfriend, Pereira (then 16) found herself suddenly and unceremoniously dumped. Then, a month later, he changed his mind with one proviso–that she send him a nude picture of herself, as proof of her affection and commitment. Confused and vulnerable, Pereira acquiesced, never imagining that a topless photo she sent would be forwarded to other students at her high school–and then, to the rest of the world. “I was so ashamed, embarrassed and mad,” she said, in an interview with CNN.

As a result of her experiences, Pereira recently appeared on a MTV documentary about digital dating abuse called “A Thin Line,” where she and others not only spoke out against digital abuse, but also warned teens to consider the unforeseen consequences of sexting. Indeed, the evidence suggests that this message is coming none-too-soon: a new study from the Cyberbullying Research Center shows that one in ten teens reported receiving threatening cell phone messages from a romantic partner, and another 10% say their romantic partner had stopped them from using a computer or cell phone.

This is significant because this study illustrates how cell phones can be used in a pattern of abuse, particularly to reinforce the familiar themes of power and control. Sameer Hinduja, co-founder of the Cyberbullying Research Center and associate professor of criminology at Florida Atlantic University, explains that while such behaviors may initially seem innocuous, they can rapidly escalate to the level of relationship abuse. For example, he explains that it may initially start by “checking her texts and pictures to make sure she’s not texting with any other boys,” often followed by claims that “he wants to make sure the pictures are appropriate.” But, Hinduja says, ultimately “it’s the coercion and control that borders on real-world violence.”

The trend is particularly troubling for mental health providers who primarily serve adolescents and young adults. Jill Murray, a psychotherapist in California who has worked with victims of teen dating abuse, says almost all her new cases in the past three years involve mobile technology and social networking. In some instances, she says, the victims receive as many as 40 texts a day with negative messages from their partner, and are often penalized socially and emotionally for failing to reply. “It’s the phenomenon of no place to run and no place to hide,” Jennings says. “Now, you can be stalked electronically. You can’t even see your predator coming.”As a result, young women are effectively being taught to tolerate such behavior, and become fearful of the consequences of violating it. The problem, Jennings says, comes from the very nature of mobile communications and social networking, which allow fast, unlimited access to large swaths of the population, with little to no social or financial repercussions.

Unlike traditional media, social networking and mobile devices allow abusers access to their victims 24/7, even in traditionally private environments or safe times, like the home, after school and on weekends. And because mass media outlets like Facebook and Myspace can connect thousands within seconds, they give the abusive partner more leverage than ever before, either by posting or threatening to post a damaging message online that is seen by hundreds or even thousands of the victim’s friends and family, and even total strangers. In addition, since digital abuse does not leave any physical marks on victims, parents and school authorities may be completely unaware and powerless to end the abuse, especially if kids are also afraid to report the abuse for fear of social stigma, parental disbelief or worse yet, the loss of cell phone and laptop privileges.

Two agencies working nationally to combat this issue is the The Family Violence Prevention Fund, which is working with the Department of Justice to release a series of public service announcements in their “That’s Not Cool” campaign and  Liz Claiborne, Inc. a women’s clothing company which maintains a hot line and website “Love is Respect” teens can go to for support and information.

Here in Orange County,  FVPC community education volunteers travel to local middle and high schools to educate students about the importance of identifying and reporting abusive relationships (including cyber-bullying), as well as tools and resources available to them. Students learn what to look for in their own relationships, and the warning signs that often precipitate an escalation of dating abuse.

If you would like one of our community educators to come and speak to a group of your students, give our office a call at 929 3872.