Coping with Bullies Who Text
Here's how to understand the issue and help your child when SMS-ing becomes "textual harassment."
By now, we know that online bullying can leave a trail of destruction in its wake. It occurs fast and can have long-lasting repercussions. But what about a bully who doesn’t just try to tear your child down by posting on their Facebook wall or anonymously on Formspring, but who also attacks them directly via their cell phone?
When friends have a falling out, former besties can turn into bullies. Many times those who feel the most comfortable with their victim, such as ex-friends or boyfriends and girlfriends, turn to text bullying to hurt, embarrass, and intimidate their target. This sort of "textual harassment" is more common than most adults realize and happens on a regular basis.
Most often, text bullying is in the form of name-calling or threats. However, textual harassment can also be defined as the repeat of sending mean, embarrassing, untrue, or hurtful message to or about someone and also includes sexting, or sending sexually suggestive texts.
By hanging onto a text message that is disparaging about another individual or a suggestive photo sent via text, it is typical for a bully to commit what amounts to "textual blackmail." The bully uses the old text as ammunition to discourage a victim from reporting their bullying or to entice the victim to provide them favors.
Text bullying is especially harsh because it is a direct message to the victim that can be received any time and any place. While a victim can attempt to evade an online cyberbully by shutting down their computer, it is not often that tweens and teens are without their phones. Victims feel like they cannot escape the text attacks.
Unlike cyber-bullying, many parents do not even consider to ask their teen about whether or not someone may be harassing them via their cell phone. As a result, the victim of a text bully often ends up feeling isolated, violated, and fearful.
While most victims of text harassment know the identity of their bully, it is not always the case. Some text bullies will send messages from a friend’s cell phone or ask people to forward a bullying text to the victim. Even worse, many pay-as-you-go phones do not require proof of identity to purchase them and keep no record of the owner. Text messages sent made from these types of phones are basically untraceable. Text bullies use these phones to harass their victim, making it seem like "everyone hates you" while still avoiding identification.
Is your teen dealing with a text bully or know someone who is? Here are four tips for coping with "textual harassment" and how you can help them if the problem ever arises.
1. Do not respond. It doesn’t matter whether your child’s response is an attack back or if they are trying to clarify or question something. Responding in any way simply serves to escalate the conflict. By replying to a harassing text message, they are telling the bully that they will reply to their behavior and they will continue to attack via text message.
2. Do not delete. If your teen can, have them forward the text messages to a place where you can print them or at the least keep a record of the harassing texts they receive, including date, time, and the number it was sent from. You will need a record of the messages, and ideally the texts themselves, in order to make a report and end the harassment.
3. Do not let them keep it to themself. While it may feel embarrassing or scary for your teen to show a text message they’ve received to their parents or another trusted adult, it is critical that they reach out for help and support. Whether you decide to report the harassment to your cell phone provider, change their phone number, or file a formal complaint either through the school or law enforcement against their bully, having a clear and direct path with help you and your teen navigate the process to an agreed upon resolution. Finally, if the texts are physically threatening in any way, it is key that you share them with police sooner than later.
4. Make sure it’s clear that they never text revealing photos of themself to anyone, even people they trust. When friendships or relationships end, these images can be passed around or posted online with negative (and even legal) consequences, which could even implicate you as the parent. It's best to have a conversation with your teen about the dangers and liabilities so they make smart decisions moving forward.
Jerry Weichman, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist focused solely on teen and preteen issues. Dr. Jerry is in private practice at Hoag Hospital’s Neurosciences Institute in Newport Beach, CA. Dr. Jerry is also the author of the teen self-help book, "How to Deal," and is a noted public speaker on teen-related topics including parenting, bullying, and adolescent coping skills. Overcoming a lower leg amputation as a child to eventually become a Division I college football player provided Dr. Jerry with unique perspective on coping with—and overcoming—difficulties during the adolescence. To receive tips for teens and parents, register your email at www.drjerryweichman.comand follow him on Twitter: @drjerryweichman.