I have written about cyberbullying before. In fact, I have spoken on numerous occasions about cyberbullying and helped to develop information for parents, educators and child welfare experts on how to prevent cyberbullying. However, it seems as though the efforts of bullies are more powerful those of people like you and me who would prevent bullying in all its forms.
At a small talk last month, parents began to ask me about something called the “Momo Challenge”. I had only heard a little about this new form of cyberbullying, but learned a lot by speaking with these parents. The challenge pops up on YouTube and WhatsApp. It is associated with a creepy, bug-eyed female image. The message of the challenge encourages middle school youth and young teens to hurt themselves. Unfortunately, there is a fascination with the horrific online message and youth are succumbing and hurting themselves. This is one of the worst forms of cyberbullying.
Cyberbullying is much more difficult to detect and to manage than bullying in person because a youth may not even know who is victimizing them. As the Momo Challenge demonstrates, the bully may even be someone your child does not know. Bullying by peers whom we know is difficult to manage, but can be prevented by the community around the bully and the victim. If the bully cares about the community, that can act as a deterrent against further victimization by them. The community will care about both the bully and the victim, and both need someone to care about them to help them recover.
The online bully, like whoever is behind the Momo Challenge, does not care about either their victims or their communities and so it is up to all of us to prevent youth from being affected by sinister online bullies.
To help parents and teachers do this, I suggest you do some research on the many online parental tools that are available to help you prevent unwanted internet contact. This article from Parents Magazine has a good list of online tools and excellent reviews about what each offers. I am not an internet expert but I have given this article to parents and some whose knowledge is extensive have told me that this an excellent list with tools that suit most situations.
There are two things that every parent, grandparent or child caregiver should remember in any case of cyberbullying. The first is that it is very important to report any bullying activity to the reporting function within the website where it appeared and to authorities. This includes the police, since much of this victimization is illegal.
The second things to remember – and to practice – is dialogue. Ongoing, sensitive conversations with youth are the best way to prevent and assist with any negative situation that can affect a young person. If a youth knows that they can count on you to provide a safe listening space, they will come to you when they are puzzled or confused. Undertake a meditation or mindfulness practice so that your own emotions are well-controlled. Your calmness facilitates the safe space. Make time to spend with your teen or the youth you care about. Do your best to be as present as the menacing app pop-up that appears out of nowhere online. That will give youth something positive to think about and a caring presence when they require it.
(Note: Finding an image for this blog was difficult because I didn’t want to use the horrific image from the Moma Challenge as I find it very frightening. The image I am using is from witsprogram.ca and contains the best advice on how to manage cyberbullying.)