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.


“Start Strong” Reflections November 29, 2010

Filed under: bullying,community education,domestic violence — Women's Studies Intern @ 9:49 am

Since the beginning of October, Community Education volunteers have been heading into sixth and eighth grade classrooms to facilitate Start Strong-domestic violence primary prevention programming lectures about bullying, violence in the home and healthy relationships. We have two forty five minute sessions to work with kids about recognizing and working through these issues. While I was originally nervous about heading into middle school classrooms, the dialogue I’ve encountered with these kids has been incredibly helpful and insightful.

We spend a lot of time talking with the kids during the day on bullying about “identity based insults”.  Calling people “gay” or “retarded” or using racial or gender based slurs is fairly common in middle and high schools.  In Start Strong we focus on how and why it is hurtful to use inherent physical or emotional characteristics of individuals as synonyms for insults. For example, calling something “gay” when you think they are stupid or strange, is  hurtful to someone who identifies as gay or queer.  One of the most interesting questions I’ve heard so far was from a girl in one of my classes who after we discussed using “retarded” as an insult, shared that she was born with a heart defect and wanted to know if that made her “retarded”.  It opened the door for an interesting dialogue about why we make fun of certain disabilities but not others and how to try to use positive self-affirmation to work through insults from others.

I’ve also heard from the kids about how they navigate their way through dating relationships.  Some boys have asked questions about what to do if their friends are the ones who are being abusive to partners, which shows really great promise for bystander intervention.  We’ve also talked about how gender roles change as we get older.  Many of the boys mentioned how girls get to hit them all the time and nothing happens but they can’t hit back.  This comment opened the door for a really interesting conversation about gender privilege.  While many girls teasingly hit boys (which does not make it right, we want to avoid all violence), this teasing-hitting looks very different than men who grow up to abuse women.  We also got to have a great discussion on why boys might feel nervous or stupid reporting girls’ abusing them.   Having these conversations early on about how to communicate with boyfriend’s and girlfriend’s and knowing when a partner is making you uncomfortable and nervous has a tremendous impact on individuals being able to know how to have healthy relationships in the future.

One of the other interesting things I’ve talked with the kids about is abuse in the home.  Many of the kids want to know if spanking is “wrong” or “child abuse”.  It’s been difficult to try to discuss the intricacies of child abuse in less than an hour especially when I have my own opinions about corporal punishment and children, but they are raising really great questions.  They way I try and explain it to them is looking at the context of the spankings.  Is it because you directly disobeyed a parent or is it because you made a mistake you couldn’t help?  Looking at parental intentions for disciplinary actions is important.  It’s also important that parents be able to talk with their kids about why they are angry or upset and let children know that it is the actions that parents are frustrated with, not the child herself.

The entire Start Strong program has been an incredible insightful and fulfilling project to work on.  While I can imagine room for expansion beyond our 2 sessions, seeing these kids get at least an introduction to these issues is an important step in making our world a less violent, more inclusive place.