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We’re barely into 2018 when we’ve already have had several headlines of youth taking their lives from cyber-humiliation – across the country and the globe:

Dolly Everett of Australia, Sarah Ullman of California and Gabriella Green of Florida.

Young girls that were bullied online and didn’t feel they had a way out. The term bullycide has now been defined to describe these young people that become so emotionally distressed by (online and offline) harassment/bullying that they commit suicide.

Are girls getting meaner?

One parent who knew Dolly Everett and her family shared how his daughter was also victim of online bullying. According to Daily Telegraph, this father said his 15-year-old daughter Katelyn had been bullied relentlessly via Snapchat for years.

He posted a photo on Facebook of one of the horrible messages he said Katelyn regularly receives.

“Why don’t you just go cut your wrist until you bleed out,” the message said.

“You’ll do everyone a favour. Go do what dolly did it should’ve been you not her”.

Katie Hurley, author of the new bestselling book, No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong Confident and Compassion Girls (Penguin, January 2018) encourages parents to talk to their daughter’s about relational aggression.

In No More Mean Girls, Katie Hurley stresses the importance of starting these conversations early:

“Define words like gossip, teasing, taunting, public humiliation, excluding, cliques or groups, and cyberbullying (yes, even if your child “never has screen time” and “has no chance of getting a phone anytime soon.”) Avoiding these topics will only keep your daughter in the dark and render her powerless when she does confront them. Educating her and talking about positive alternatives empowers her and prepares her.” – Katie Hurley, No More Mean Girls (Penguin, January 2018)

Short chats are better than long chats

As a family cyber-advocate for over a decade, I’ve encouraged parents to talk to their kids offline about online safety. This is not the sex talk, this is the tech chat. In reality, these are so much easier and can be fun. The one hiccup is — they have to be as regular as, how was your day at school.

We all know that communication is key to help keep our kids safe, both online and off — but at the same time, we understand that talking to our teens (especially) can be a struggle. Maybe we can only squeeze in five – ten minutes at a time, which is better than nothing, especially if it’s on a regular basis.

  • Driving to school, a sporting event, dropping them off at a friend’s house etc. Anytime your “side-by-side” with your child in a car is a great time to connect with them.
  • Coffee shops, ice cream parlors (or smoothies) – Enjoy a treat with them – and talk tech. Teens love their technology – and in reality, they do want you to be interested in their online life.
  • Family dinners – We know parents try, but even if you can do this once or twice a week, make it a habit to ask about everyone’s cyber-life. Any new apps? Websites or virtual friends? Most importantly – have they witnessed any online hate – and what do they do about it?

Yes – talk about what to do when they read people being hurt online. Recently a young teen won a contest for his video on helping bystanders become upstanders. In my interview with him, he shared how he was once a victim of bullying — and didn’t share it with with parents, but wished he had. His video, Leave A Message, is an empowering three minutes you need to share with your child.

Parents, you need to be more involved and interested in your teen’s cyber-life. It truly matters.

Learn more about how to help your child build digital resilience.

Understand why some kids aren’t talking to their parents when they are suffering with digital hate, and try to reassure your teen that no matter what, you are there for them without judgement.

Book chats with teens can truly open up dialogue. My recent book, Shame Nation: Choosing Kindness and Compassion In An Age of Cruelty and Trolling (Sourcebooks, Oct 2017) offers a discussion guide that can help you start a conversation with your teenager. Shame Nation is for teens and parents alike to read.

Let’s not wait for your name or a friend or family to become a headline – start your chats today.

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