May 4, 2010

Tweens and Cyberbullying

While parents of high-school students may bemoan the amount of time that their teens spend texting or on sites like Facebook, parents of middle schoolers may be even more concerned. The cyberbullying that is happening to tweens can have a frightening impact on their mental health. An emotionally devastating event that can barely be handled by a stable 16 year-old may be enough to overwhelm a 12 year-old who lacks the same level of coping skills.

Peers at this age, too, are more likely to pile on and echo destructive comments online. One of my 8th grade clients recently explained two new phenomena. The first, sending a text bomb, can jam someone's phone for hours with a repetitive message than can be sent thousands of times. I don't think that this is what parents had in mind when they purchased an "unlimited" plan.

The second is even more troubling. On a social-networking site called Formspring, members ask and answer questions about one another. This site allows anyone to post comments about anyone else anonymously. Yes, unlike Facebook, this site allows kids to literally hit and run with no need to identify themselves. For those of us who remember "slam books," this takes the humiliation to a new level. Parents of young children, tweens and young teens might want to cut and paste this link to a recent CNN video to see what's being done by one middle school principal:

Parents who are first buying their pre-teen child a cellphone may want to make the purchase contingent on the child's acceptance that the parent may periodically check texts. At the very least, take a look at these sites and "friend" your tween or teen on Facebook.


  1. Hi Elinor, I don't hesitate to tell my kids that we'll randomly check their phones and email accounts to ensure that they're not being bullied, approached by strangers, or using the technology inappropriately. And we make it clear it's for their safety--they've all heard tales in the schools' anti-bullying programs about what can go wrong. It seems to work. An early heads-up lets them know that you're doing so for their safety, and if you do find something alarming, then they're not surprised that you've been checking. I did so more in the early days of their use, far less so now, but if one of them seems to be abnormally moody, then I check. That worked well recently, when one was being obsessively texted by a friend with a romantic interest who was very manipulative. I was offended myself by the obsessive nature of the texting--there were no curse words, nothing obscene, but the texter was psychologically manipulative--and told my child I thought the kid wasn't nice, even though the kid is highly intelligent and involved in some of the same activities. I think my kid was relieved--I didn't get any complaint about the fact that I'd checked the phone--and it gave us the space to talk about it. The creep stopped.

    My main takeway: Don't spend too much time checking--it's not a world you want to relive!

  2. Thanks for drawing our attention to an important and growing problem.

  3. I totally agree, Elinor. The impact that the cyberbullying can have on a preteen's developing sense-of-self and not yet fully developed coping resources can be devastating! In addition, cyberbullying really does take the meanness to a whole new level, one that is far more public and humiliating than ever before. Thanks for the well-written and informative blog!!

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  5. Thank you Elinor for a wealth of information! I don't think there can ever be enough warning about the terrible effects of cyber bullying. I DO remember the cold chill of seeing a spiral notebook passed around my classroom and realizing that there was yet another slambook to dread! So cruel...
    I look forward to reading more from you!!! Thank you!

  6. Its all up to parent monitoring if they do then all the things are perfect and safe and if they don't then its a sign of trouble.
    Internet safety for kids