Text Message Bullying: Responding to Aggression

sad-emoticonBullying comes through many venues – the classic image is a gang of thugs gathering behind the gym at school, but the truth is that many bullies have moved to alternative forms of attack like social media, public message boards, and text messaging. The last of these is most common and today we’re going to take a look at the best ways of responding to any kind of aggression and ridicule sent through texts.

There are several factors that can make text bullying more damaging than traditional bullying for both the victim and the bully:

  • It can happen 24 hours a day, even at home, which is usually a refuge from bullying, so it can feel inescapable.
  • Text bullies are often much meaner because they don’t have to see their victims.
  • The victims may not know who is sending the text messages, which can be frightening.
  • Teens may think text bullying is anonymous and that they can’t get caught. They also may use someone else’s phone to send the messages.
  • Victims often respond by sending mean messages back to the bully, becoming bullies themselves.

Discovering The Problem

Most kids are intensely private when it comes to their technology – they have no desire to share their private communications or let you know when anything is wrong, and like many cases of bullying, children are often unwilling to call attention to it. They may be afraid of retaliation or being thought of as weak, so it’s up to parents to take the initiative when it comes to detecting the bullying.

There are two fairly reliable methods of doing this:

  1. Method one involves paying attention to the child’s behavior. If they’re happy and having fun when they get home, but come down worried and upset ten minutes later, then there’s a good chance that they saw a message of some kind that bothered them. This is a warning flag and should prompt a discussion about what’s upsetting the child.
  2. Method two – and the more reliable way of discovering the problem – involves monitoring the child’s text messages. This can be used separately or in conjunction with method one – quickly glancing over the recent messages for signs of bullying is an excellent way of monitoring the situation without intruding too far on the child’s privacy.

Dealing With Text Message Bullying

The best method of dealing with bullying via text message is ignoring it. Bullies want to provoke a reaction, and nothing will make them happier than getting a response demanding they stop.

Text messaging is, by its very nature, a delayed response. There’s no instant gratification of seeing another child afraid, and no way to escalate things when the bully wants to do so. The upside of this is that bullies will quickly get bored when they don’t receive a response, though they may send increasingly frequent (and crude) messages in a desperate attempt to provoke a response of some kind.

There are cases of cyberbullying which caused teen to take their own life – it’s in the news and it is scary. Any parent may be tempted to take away a teen’s cell phone to prevent text bullies from harassing a victim, but this deprives teens of social connections that are very important to them. Fear of losing their phones is a major reason why teens don’t report text bullying. There are, however, other ways that parents can help combat the effects of text messages from bullies:

  • Talk to your kids about text bullying and why it is wrong. Tell them if they ever are the victim that it’s not their fault and they won’t be punished.
  • Help teens block numbers that are sending mean text messages.
  • Tell teens not to let anyone else use their phone to send messages.
  • If the text bullying is serious, contact the cell phone company to get the teen a new phone number and have the teen be very careful about who they give it to.
  • If the teen knows who the bully is, let the bully’s parents know what they are doing.

Despite examples on the news, warnings, and tough consequences, bullying will never completely go away. As parents, we need to constantly be aware of popular apps and websites that are popular with teens.  The more we monitor what our children are doing with their cellphones, the safer they will be.