“Cyber Bullying: The Inside Job” (for parents, educators, concerned citizens, and professionals)

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As a holistic psychotherapist, spiritual counselor, and mother of a “tween” boy, this article gives a unique perspective around cyberbullying, and I hope it is helpful. As far as the “inside job” goes, I would like to touch upon how our children and teens can build resiliency, regain their power, and ultimately lessen the effects of bullying behaviors. No matter what is happening all around us in our lives, there are techniques that increase self-esteem, healthy communication and expression, as well as spiritual connection. Encouraging our youth to take long breaks from devices, surrounding themselves with positive people and activities, pinpointing who to talk to when they are having problems, being appropriately assertive, and having “kindness prevail” in their lives are all crucial in my opinion. So whatever negativity is occurring on the outside, one can still become grounded, centered, at peace, growing and learning from experiences, while focusing on what truly matters in life.

Research shows that cyberbullying is related to lower self-esteem (which also tends to be correlated with depression). Adolescence is a time when identity development is key. This is often linked to the social environment which plays a critical role in shaping how children grow up, and the people they become. Studies concerning bullying and self-esteem consistently have found that victims of bullying tend to have lower self-esteem than non-victims.  The exact reasons for this are not agreed upon and are unclear.  It could be that the experience of being victimized decreases one’s self-esteem, or that those who have low self-esteem are more likely to be targeted as victims.  Regardless, a significant amount of research has linked low self-esteem to poor academic achievement, absenteeism, health concerns, criminal behavior, and other consequences.  The fact that cyberbullying is related to low self-esteem should motivate us to do all we can to address it and subsequently prevent the other undesirable outcomes.

My son is not quite old enough to experience cyberbullying, and honestly, I am dreading the day when it becomes a possibility of entering his world. However, in the rare occurrence of bullying behavior in his current social environment, my plan of action usually is envisioning the best possible outcome for all involved, positive energy prevailing, and beneficial lessons being learned. I continue with thoughts and statements such as “Kindness Rules” and other such interventions, knowing that negative energy will eventually leave however it needs to work itself out. I talk to my boy about the fact that happy kids do not tend to bully others. People that feel good about themselves and their lives, and have positive role models, are usually kind. Although I do encourage him to express his sadness and anger about the bullying behaviors, it is taken a bit further with a deeper approach discussing an understanding from which the bullying behaviors may be originating. In addition, I taught him to imagine a mirror between him and the bully and everything negative just reflecting back and not being absorbed or internalized (mentally giving it back to the bully). When there are mean-spirited comments towards my child, I teach him how to make it clear that such behavior will not be tolerated. We suggest taking breaks from certain groups of kids when necessary, much like taking breaks from the internet, focusing on positive people and activities. Being open and allowing for a peaceful life and getting used to the quiet, with a “knowing” that we all deserve that, is important. If your child or teen seems to keep finding himself or herself in the middle of unnecessary negativity, it can be helpful to continually utilize positive affirmations such as “My life is free from unnecessary drama and I am focused on peace”.

Obviously, people do not always think before speaking or acting, especially our youth. They can say and do things that have the potential to be quite hurtful. Sometimes, unfortunately, it might be intentional, but other times completely unintentional or it is simply due to carelessness, ignorance, or even jealousy. But always remember that our minds can be trained to begin seeing the good in everyone and everything. When we learn more about spirituality, we are guided into positive pure love that comes from the heavens. Perfection is in spiritual realms, and my belief is that prior to our experiences on earth which shape our egos, we are “perfect” spiritual beings. Deep down inside each and every person is a spirit that is pure, good, and full of unconditional love and happiness.

Teaching children and teens the act of self-love is one of the most important activities for overall happiness and health, no matter what is going on in external situations. As many of you know, when you truly love yourself, things in life seem to fall more into place. You are attracted to people and situations that support your highest good, you find fulfilling jobs, you eat nutritious food, you take care of your body, and more easily receive from all positive sources. I have also found that if you treat yourself the way you want others to treat you, then you are not only getting the benefits of self-nurturing, but usually others will notice and often follow in their treatments of you. To increase self-love, there is an activity called “mirror work” inspired by the late Louise Hay. Have the child or teen look in a mirror saying the following: I love you _____ (insert name). Have them then do this every time they pass by a mirror, along with a smile, as it will start increasing the self-love. I say it to myself like I say it to my son! Be kind to yourself when practicing mirror work as it initially tends to reveal negative self-judgements. But keep going and you will start to see past those judgements. Understanding that this type of work is important for healing will encourage youth to continue doing it. Other ways to show self-love are in actual self-nurturing actions and activities. Repeatedly using affirmations such as “I completely love myself unconditionally at all times” is another activity that can create more self-love and increased resilience. Additional daily affirmations include: “I deserve kindness”, “I am strong and powerful”, and “I am equal to everyone else”.

For a bit of fun, children seem to like natural stones and crystals. I know mine does! If you feel a child might benefit from carrying a stone (sometimes also referred to as “worry stones”), go ahead and try that in your interventions. If you are open to it, there are “healing” crystals and stones which tend to be used for specific purposes. One such crystal is Rose Quartz which is used to help increase all types of love, forgiveness, compassion, joy, warmth, and emotional healing. Rose Quartz is actually known as the “Stone of Love” and I have personally found it beneficial during periods sadness or when the heart aches.

Encouraging youth to identify what they are feeling, in a non-judgmental manner, is also essential. One method I can suggest in order to express emotions is journal writing. It is simple: no censorship, no one else being able to read it, just thoughts and feelings flowing onto paper. Encourage them to ask questions such as: If my heart could speak, what would it say? Regular journal writing can be extremely beneficial as identifying and clearing out anger, along with other emotions, leads to increased wellbeing, better relationships, and a more peaceful and fulfilling life. Writing letters to themselves as if sending to a loved one, is another way journaling can help our youth. Be sure they are including ample amounts of self-nurturing positive statements! They can also leave self-love notes and reminders on their dashboard or desk areas, type them into the “notes” section of their devices, and write special reminder words into their calendars! Initially, if they cannot think of something positive about themselves, have them trade with others (write notes for each other to use). This will then become second nature and instilled in their minds in no time!

It is important to mention that assertiveness training is quite effective for certain situations, as well as conditions such as social anxiety, relationship conflicts and concerns, low self-respect, and problems resulting from unexpressed anger (such as depression). Knowing assertiveness techniques is imperative during any type of bullying experience. From my point of view, it would be beneficial if more adults learned the signs and symptoms, not only recognizing when children are being bullied, but also when they are showing bullying behaviors. If you find a child is possibly being too passive, passive-aggressive, or overly aggressive with others, then it is highly likely he or she would benefit from this type of intervention. Working with a counselor or doing some online studying on the subject of assertiveness training will likely help the situation, surrounding relationships, and overall wellbeing.

A few things all parents can be doing now:

  • Providing a safe haven at home, a feeling of warmth and love
  • Teaching and modeling mutual respect, including healthy communication
  • Showing loving behaviors
  • Spending quality time, participating in healthy activities
  • Encouraging positive social supports and authentic connections

With our youth, it is essential to monitor, have open communication, listen, and encourage reaching out to parents (and others that they trust). As adults we also need to be aware, provide options, and speak up for youth when necessary. My sister, and mother of 3, recently gave some great advice. She said as parents, talking to our children before any bullying even happens is key. Make sure it is known that there are always other avenues to take if something seems too much to endure. My perspective is that having potential alternatives and options (examples include moving or home schooling) is essential in order to minimize any extreme thoughts of physical harm to self or others. Generally speaking, I believe additional services, such as increased counseling resources, are definitely needed, but I feel like things are thankfully going in the right direction.


Gina L. Spielman, LCSW, CH, is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Certified Hypnotist with over 20 years of clinical experience. She is also a Certified Mental Health Integrative Medicine Provider and Certified in Natural Holistic Remedies. She is the author of multiple books and is a freelance writer. Gina practices in Illinois which includes consultation via videoconference. website: www.ginaspielman.com

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