by Jenna Townsend
How did you experience bullying as a kid? Maybe it was on the playground or during lunch in the cafeteria or on a bus. Bullying hurts no matter where it takes place; and unfortunately, kids today have a lot more places where they can be victims of bullying. In fact, most bullying instances have moved from in-person to online. Today, I want to talk about how you can teach the kids in your life to deal with cyberbullying.
Getting kids to talk to you about cyberbullying can be hard. They may be too embarrassed to talk about it. Maybe they feel like it’s something they should be able to handle themselves, or maybe they’re scared that getting adults involved will make their situation worse, or restrict their activities. Do your best to make sure kids know you’re safe to talk to and that you want what’s best for everyone involved.
Here are five things you can talk through with kids dealing with online conflict.
The first response to cyberbullying is to NOT respond. Whatever it is, mean texts, social media posts, or message boards, if the subject has gotten rough and hurtful, the best thing to do is to log off and turn the electronics off. Kids may not be excited to hear that, they may want to stay online and fight back, but they need to understand that responding in the heat of the moment, when you’re hurt and angry, doesn’t make it better. Encourage them to talk to God about what’s going on as they turn off their device. This course of action gives space for God to handle it. He may lead someone else to stick up for them or for the bully to become ashamed.
The second thing you can do is listen to them. This may seem obvious, but I’m talking about listening without looking to solve the problem right away. I know when I was a kid, I always appreciated when my dad would just listen to me talk about how upset I was without trying to lecture me about a solution. Of course, we want to help kids solve the problem, and we’ll get to that, but the first and simplest thing you can do for them, after they’ve walked away from the bullies, is empathetic listening. Make sure they’re ready to talk about a solution. After empathy, you can say, “would you like to talk about what we can do about it?”
Third, pray for the bully. Jesus told us in Matthew 5 to “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Share this verse with kids who are dealing with cyberbullying. Ask them what they think it means to love their enemies. Clarify that loving your enemies means seeing them the way God does. God cares for bullies, and He wants them to learn better. Pray the bully would come to know Jesus as Savior, have his or her own hurts healed, and stop hurting others. Pray you handle the situation in a way that honors God.
Fourth, strategize reporting. Kids may think that loving others means not telling on them so they don’t get in trouble. Help kids understand that sometimes you show love by not allowing someone’s bad and harmful behavior to continue. Especially those who bully others either in person or online, they need to be stopped or they will continue to hurt others. Teach kids to quickly take screenshots of ugly messages before they disappear, so it can be reported in a factual way and possibly anonymously if there is fear of retaliation.
Fifth, compare the truth of God to the lies of the bully. When bullying happens online, rather than face-to-face, bullies can be emboldened to say cruder, harsher things. No matter how false the insults may be, they are still hurtful. A good way to combat that is to go into God’s Word and compare what almighty God thinks. Look through verses like Jeremiah 31:3 that talks about God’s love for them. Or verses like Psalm 139:14 to remind them they are “fearfully and wonderfully made,” and Psalm 147 verse 3 that says God heals the brokenhearted. When kids are attacked by lies, they can remember God’s forever truth.
The words we use can encourage or hurt. Kids should be taught to review their own online messaging to make sure they’re not using hurtful words. They can choose to be kind even when others are mean. Give them the tools to know what to do.
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