Q: I’m horrified whenever I see something in the news about cyber-bullying; my son is about to start secondary school, and he’s fairly sensitive. I want him to enjoy making new friends and connecting with people through various means, but I’m also worried. How can I help guard his heart without being over-protective?
A: We wish we could help alleviate your concern by citing statistics showing that cyber-bullying is a rarity, like being struck by lightning. Sadly, that’s not the case; 70 per cent of Malaysian schoolchildren identified themselves with various forms of online harassment, namely calling others mean names, posting improper messages and inappropriate photos. One out of four teens has been bullied online. An 83 per cent of schoolchildren are vulnerable to online risks due to minimal protective actions taken.
First, you need to ask your son if he’s ever felt bullied in a general sense. Then transition to cyber-bullying. Has he been affected or has someone he knows? How has he responded?
Let your son know that should it ever happen (or if it already has), you want to be aware and help him walk through it. Make sure he understands that depending upon the severity, there are times when a bully’s parents should be notified, possibly school administrators, sometimes law enforcement. Assure him that you will help facilitate this process.
Furthermore, help him gain a sense of confidence. While we all know the secondary school years can be rough, your son needs to realize that confidence is a life skill that can be developed. I suggest a two-fold approach. Make sure he grasps that all human beings have a God-given value, independent of what others think or say, and independent of what he can or will accomplish. That said, in a parallel fashion, it still helps if your son can feel good about a special talent. Can he play the piano well? Does he have a good jump shot? Can he solve computer problems? Make sure he can hold his head up high because of these giftings. When others tell him he’s not much — either in person or digitally – he can trust that the error must be with the bully, not with himself.
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