Hope Witsell was a bright 13-year-old girl when her life tragically ended. An explicit text message that was intended for her boyfriend circulated around her small hometown of Ruskin, Florida, and the subsequent bullying that followed led the teen to commit suicide. It has been over a year since her tragic death, but because of a string of similar suicides of other young adults due to cyber-bullying the media are again speaking out about Hope’s death.
Earlier this month, a freshman Rutgers student, Tyler Clementi, committed suicide after an explicit tape hit the Internet of him having sexual relations with another man. The media are now revisiting cases of cyber-bullying that have led to suicide of the parties involved because of the growing severity of the problem. Hope’s mother has also started a group called Hope’s Warriors to combat bullying.
There are a million things that people think they should do to keep their child from being cyber-bullied, but the truth is, not all that many of them actually work. For starters, monitoring your child’s Facebook and MySpace and other networking sites doesn’t do all that much good. Sure it brings the bullying to your attention, but there is little that you can do about it aside from confronting the bully, which will only make things worse. Second, many parents think that the only way to get rid of the problem is to keep kids off the Internet all together. This doesn’t work because by denying the child the ability to look at these sites, yes, you are keeping them away from bullying, but you are also creating resentment because the child has to then face his peers when asked why he can’t be on those sites.
The main way that is sure to keep your child from suffering the same fate as the young adults in the media is to talk to them. It may seem incredibly simple and like it won’t help at all, but odds are if you and your child have a close, open bond, they will come to you if someone is bullying them. Another good alternative to completely restricting or monitoring computer use is to give your child a reason to spend time with the family and not in front of the computer. Children who have other things to do don’t normally have enough time in the day to sit and worry about networking sites.
Yet another solution is to watch your child’s behavior closely. Every parent can tell when her child is upset, and if you are talking regularly to your child and spending time with him, odds are you can tell if something is wrong before it goes too far. If you feel like you must monitor your child’s computer use, don’t cut it out completely but limit the amount of time he spends on the Internet that isn’t school-related and try to let him know that he can talk to you. Many kids aren’t going to willingly come to a parent if they have a problem, but under the right circumstances, parents can make it easier to come to them if there is a problem. Really the only thing that a parent can do is know her child and make sure that they know you love them deeply and that no problem is too big or too small to work out together.