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Secrets and Cyberbullies

As children mature they develop secrets, things of which their parents have no knowledge. These secrets sometimes fall into two categories: things they ought to have done but have not (e.g., hiding dirty clothes under the bed instead of putting them in to wash, not taking the garbage out when asked,...), and things they have done that they ought not to do (sometimes more serious, such as smoking or taking drugs).

A personal example: When my brother and I were respectively five and eight years old and living in Queens, NY, we would go for long walks-to-nowhere, which we never mentioned to our parents. Now, though, I realize that they would have wanted to know that we walked from home to what was then LaGuardia Airport, maybe two miles away. There we played in the grass around the runways and, as I recall, walked right up to airplanes without interference -- in the those days, that was possible. And all of it would surely have been forbidden.

But it didnít even occur to us to tell Mom or Dad: we honestly did not consider it to be that important. Knowing and doing things apart from oneís parents is part of growing up, of becoming independent. With time, it happens.

But sometimes, to hide a secret -- as much from themselves as from parents, -- children will create a white lie: "My parents tell me not to smoke, but so-and-so smokes, and he thinks itís great. What do my parents know, if I donít tell them?"

Cyberbullying can fall into this area. It happens "when one child targets another through interactive technologies." Often the victim feels helpless, expecting parents not to understand, to overreact or to play "blame the victim," so they donít tell, they just suffer.

Because the Internet (or even a cell phone) allows anonymity, the act can be kept secret by both children; the child who is bullied and afraid to tell, and the child who, unknown to his or her parents, does the bullying.

Cyberbullies may inflict the same cruelties that schoolyard bullies have traditionally inflicted: "You are stupid. You are weak. Your clothes are ugly." But again, because they can be anonymous, they may do worse. They may say "You should die!" and say it often. Given enough of such treatment, a sensitive child can believe it and commit suicide. That, too, happens. But it should not.

The most helpful site I found for parents who want to inform themselves on this issue is The initial slideshow goes through all the terrible things a bully can say or do to a peer naive enough to read and believe. They range from "Everybody hates you!" to locking the victim out of his or her computer to promoting a site for voting the ugliest kid: your child. They include death threats to child and family and can even inspire murder.

At Are You a Cyberbully you will find a test your child might take to understand better the definition and scope of this phenomenon. The score indicates whether the child is Cyber Saint, Cyber Risky, Cyber Sinner, or Cyber Bully.

As for a parentís role, points out that "Parents need to be the one trusted place kids can go when things go wrong online and offline. Yet they often are the one place kids avoid...."

As always, we see that trust between parent and child is critical. Trust builds over a lifetime and can be lost quickly but won back only very, very slowly. Talk to your children, listen to them. Spend time with them. Donít assume that you know everything they know or do, but donít overreact when they surprise you negatively.

Help them grow, help them work through their problems. Help them become strong and thus independent. Make sure that, as independence builds, they have your compassionate guidance. They need it.

Chan At Table

Last month I wrote about little Chan (pronounced "Shan," -- sheís a French toddler I met this summer), who often has tantrums even though her parents are loving and capable parents. These tantrums may arise because Chan has been told to do something she doesnít believe she has to do (see last monthís article) and sometimes because people are talking to each other but ignoring her.

Chan eats dinner with the family; she rarely eats alone. At three years old, she feeds herself and is often invited into the conversation of the adults around her, who can be numerous. But because it is the end of the day, and the adults, although tired, need to communicate with each other, sometimes no one hears Chan until she shouts. She doesnít shout all the time, -- only after she has tried a few times at a reasonable level. Then her parents will tell her that she doesnít need to shout.

Itís important to note that in France, dinner is a time for communication, and it essentially occurs twice a day. People eat late, lunching between one and two in the afternoon and dining between eight and ten P.M., and can spend up to two hours at table each time. A meal may start with aperitifs or wine and end with coffee, tea or cordials, and chocolates. Not to mention the several courses, each served separately: salad, two or three hot dishes, bread, cheese, and fruit or dessert.

And throughout the meal, people talk to each other: about their day or someone elseís day, or the news, or a poem, or a conversation overheard -- practically anything. Whatís amazing to me is that a simple topic of conversation expands easily into at least ten minutes of being tossed about. Until the next one emerges. Everyone is entitled to an opinion, and everyoneís opinion is considered. There is always something to talk about -- right through coffee, which in itself can go beyond half an hour.

There is no TV at meals, there are no books, and everyone eats together -- no one eats alone. Do I need to say that it takes some practice to rise to this twice-daily occasion? It certainly did for me. So I conclude that itís important for Chan to be at table to learn this art -- the art of always having something to contribute, of listening to others, of picking up on little cues that will lead to something of interest to others.

Considering that her parents do need to communicate at dinner -- when else? -- the best solution may be for the others at table to help out. Sometimes Chan wants her mother to respond, or her father, but sometimes another adult can substitute. Or maybe we can intercede for her, getting her parentsí attention when she canít.

But this kind of problem arises in many families, when there are only three or four at table: Mom, Dad and child/ren. Itís natural for adults to want and need to talk to each other, but itís important also for children to learn how to participate.

So. When your family is at table, try always to keep an ear open for what the children have to say. It isnít necessary to quiz them, just to consider them as individuals (Itís infuriating to sit with people who talk only to each other in near mumbles obviously not meant to be heard by others). Make sure that some of your conversation will be of interest to them, and set the example of talking interestingly with each other.

Helpful Hints for Harried Parents

What To Do When Kids Fight

My neighbor has two sons, grown now into loving, capable young adults. But when they were young, they fought. Of course, when they fought, one or the other would end up going to Mom for relief. Then it would be Momís problem to resolve it, to mete out punishment for the guilty party and exonerate the victim.

But how was Mom, who hadnít been there at the beginning of things, to determine the guilty party, or know how guilty each boy may have been? She often had to play the bad guy, and she didnít like that role at all. Who does?

So she did this: when the boys had an argument, she would put them both in one room -- not send them to their respective rooms, but in one room, together -- virtually locking the door until they resolved the problem themselves.

If an argument or fight came up when they were all in the car, she would look for the least attractive stopping place possible -- she may have been hyperbolizing, but but what she said was, "a sweaty hot field, a freezing street corner, someplace with snow a foot deep or rain falling in sheets." When she found it, she would evict both boys from the car with the same instructions: resolve this yourselves.

It worked. They didnít like being in the rain, snow, heat or cold any more than they liked being locked up in a room together.

(I had only one child. When he created a serious fuss in the car, I would promptly stop, pull over, and turn off the engine, telling him that we were not going anywhere until the fuss was done with. If he made a scene in a supermarket, potentially embarrassing me into buying something he already knew I would not buy, I would leave my shopping basket in the aisle, take him straight to the car and tell him he could stay there or behave. These strategies worked, too. If they didnít we just went home -- no trip, no shopping. The secret is turning the problem back to the child, rather than lecturing, which is essentially accepting the bad guy role.)

Mom did give them some negotiating tools to work with, e.g., "If youíll do this, then Iíll do that," or "Iíll give you this thing if youíll give me the other one." But it was up to them to employ those tools, or to find another that worked.

Now her boys, both college-age, get along beautifully. She tells me that they never argue because, when they have a difference of opinion, they know how to negotiate. They are veterans in listening to each otherís viewpoint and finding resolution. Whatís more, they know how to negotiate, not only with each other but with friends, employers, teachers, even with people they donít really like -- how handy is that?! It makes their Mom proud.
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These articles provide information of a general nature only, and should be used only to supplement your knowledge. We hope you find the articles interesting, but cannot guarantee the accuracy or completeness of any information contained in these articles. Nothing in these articles is intended as a substitute for professional medical advice. You should always consult with your own physician if you have any concerns about your own health or the health of your child.