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In the last section, we discussed four therapeutic interventions for the friends of internet bullies and their victims. These four interventions are, give permission to act on feelings, decide on specific actions, provide immediate and follow up support for victims, and help bullies change in positive ways.
In this section, we will discuss three ideas for including the parents and families of both internet bully and victim in establishing a healing process for both students. These three ideas are modeling appropriate behaviors, modifying enmeshed or disengaged families, and encouraging consistency.
Tara, 16, had recently come into conflict with a classmate, Bridget, regarding an argument the girls had over a posting on Bridget’s MySpace page. Bridget had posted a list of reasons why Tara’s boyfriend should break up with her. Tara had responded by posting abusive messages and death threats on Bridget’s MySpace page.
Bridget would post up to 20 harassing messages a day, spending most of her evenings on the computer composing new messages. Tara’s father, Carl, had discovered the messages when he overheard Tara crying at the computer one evening. Carl had immediately notified the school. The school had threatened to expel Bridget unless she entered therapy.
I involved both girl’s parents in composing a therapeutic strategy for the girls. Clearly, both Bridget and Tara were in need of social skills training. I felt that involving the parents from an early stage would give a commonality to a communal effort to improve the lives of both girls. Tara’s parents were eager to do anything they could to help Tara cope with the effects of Bridget’s internet bullying. Bridget’s parents, once confronted with the threat of Bridget being expelled from school, were also determined to do whatever they could to help Bridget change the behavior.
♦ Idea # 1 - Modeling Appropriate Behavior
As you know, many parents will find through an examination of their own behavior that their interactions with their children tend to be demanding rather than negotiation. Rather than parents addressing their child’s bullying behavior on the internet by taking away computer privileges entirely or simply stating, ‘do it differently or else,’ if the internet bully sees their parents engaged not only in negotiative behavior with school staff and others, but with the child him or herself, they will be more likely to change.
Obviously it is not easy for a parent like Carl to immediately began practicing more negotiating behavior. However, I explained to Carl that often, children who see their parents making an effort to change old behaviors are impressed as much with the parent’s commitment to the struggle as with the new behavior itself. This effort to change may be enough to inspire the internet bully to work towards her or his own change. In addition, working together towards a common goal can often reinforce a parent-child bond, which in turn provides more of the social support that the internet bully needs.
♦ Idea # 2 - Seeds of Family Growth Technique
I introduced the "Planting Seeds of Family Growth" technique to Carl as a way to introduce simple, low-stress change suggestions for increasing family involvement. Clearly, some of these suggestions are very obvious, but I have found in disengaged families these simple steps may be overlooked, and thus worth presenting in the Seeds of Family Growth technique.
In working with Bridget’s mother, Brianne, I stated, "The support which you give each other as a family is remarkable. However, Bridget may be having a hard time perceiving sources of support outside her family, which can make situations like the internet bullying incident especially hard on her." I encouraged Brianne to help Bridget choose at least one extracurricular activity away from the home and the computer in which Bridget could began building an external support network.
♦ Technique # 3 - Encourage Consistency in Discipline
Carl stated, "When we first found out about Tara bullying Bridget online, we grounded her and took away her internet privileges for a week. But the second day she had a research project, so we let her on because neither my wife nor I had time to drive her to the library. The third day I had a terrible day at work and came home late, and honestly I kind of forgot about the punishment. After that lapse, I didn’t feel right pulling the plug again." Clearly, these episodes of no consequences have thus been taught to Tara, who now has little reason to change the behavior.
Since each family has its own concept of appropriate disciplinary techniques, for the most part I do not address the disciplinary tactics themselves unless there is an indication of harmful methods. With Carl, I chose to focus not on his choice of punishments, but on encouraging Carl and his wife to apply their chosen disciplinary actions consistently.
While stopping Tara’s internet privileges completely for a week may or may not be the ideal tactic, the important point is to have the underlying message from her parents come through clearly and consistently. Think of your Carl. Would encouraging him or her to apply disciplinary tactics consistently help her or him send a more clear message to her or his child about appropriate online behavior? The key here is making a disciplinary action one that can be enforced, like not internet for the next 24 hours.
In this section, we have discussed three ideas for including the parents and families of both internet bully and victim in establishing a healing process for both students. These three ideas are modeling appropriate behaviors, modifying enmeshed or disengaged families, and encouraging consistency.