My daughter is being bullied on Facebook, what can I do?

Michael Richard, MD
Michael Rich, MD, MPH

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Media expert Michael Rich, MD, MPH, director of the Center on Media and Child Health at Children’s Hospital Boston, answers your questions about media use.

Last week he answered your questions about the effects of violent video games on kids with central auditory processing disorders.

Here’s this week’s question:

Q: My daughter is 14 and has been bullied every day for over the past year. She has now been bullied by lots of girls and boys from her school on Facebook. She has gone through this for too long now, and all the school will do is suspend these kids for a week—then they come back and it will start again. Can I keep her home from school and give her some kind of home tutoring?
-Kazy, from JustAsk on Education.com

A: Dear Kazy,

You can certainly keep your child home. It is the school’s job to educate and socialize your child in a safe, healthy, nurturing environment. It seems that you have made your concerns known to the school leadership and that they have responded as schools often do—by punishing the bullies, but not creating a long-term solution.  Unfortunately, this approach doesn’t change the culture of the school, which means that these situations will continue to develop. You can support your daughter and encourage such change within the school by taking the following steps:

1. Address the immediate problem by connecting with your daughter’s natural advocates. Her doctor, teacher, guidance counselor, school nurse, and coach are all mandated reporters of child abuse or neglect, which means that they must report even suspicion that she is in danger of abuse (by the kids) or neglect (by the school). Such reports are confidential, and they do not need to name possible perpetrators or locations—those are for the social services department to investigate.

2. Enlist even unlikely-seeming allies in creating a safer, happier, healthier school environment. A culture that allows bullying to occur is a problem for the whole community to address. Therefore, reach out to–and band together with–all kinds of parents, especially parents of one or more of the alleged bullies. They don’t want their children to be in trouble any more than you want your children to be victimized, and few parents want their kids to be subject in any way to a bullying culture. Think of how powerful it would be to have parents stand together to say, “We don’t want our children to be bullies, victims, or bystanders—we don’t want bullying in the lives of our children any more!”

3. Engage your local press. Bullying is international news right now, so your regional newspapers, radio, and TV outlets will be interested in a local connection to this epidemic.

4. Use electronic media to make your concerns known to the wider public.Although it might be helpful for your daughter to at least temporarily close her Facebook account and report the cyberbullying to Facebook (which does not want their service used for that purpose), there are ways of using media to improve her situation. For example, you could create, or join, an anti-bullying parent group on Facebook. Or with the help of a trusted adult, your daughter could even create such a group for others her age. Taking leadership in this way can be wonderfully empowering, and that goes a long way toward reducing victimization.

Finally, you and your daughter could join with like-minded parents around the world who have become fans of the Center on Media and Child Health Facebook page where they get regular information and strategies for raising healthy, safe, and successful kids in the Media Age. There you can report how your efforts do, thus sharing what you’ve learned with other communities as well.

Enjoy your media and use them wisely,
The Mediatrician®

Bullying in school is a serious concern, and has been gaining a lot of national media attention recently. To learn more about this growing concern and adults may not recognize that bullying is taking place, please read Claire McCarthy’s recent  Thrive article on the subject.