On the last track, we discussed four strategies for skill training for internet bullies. These four strategies are identify support, increase the ability to empathize, gain a more accurate self-concept, and improve social problem solving and anger management.
On this track, we will discuss four therapeutic techniques for the friends of internet bullies and their victims. These four interventions are, give permission to act on feelings, decide on specific actions, provide immediate and follow up support for victims, and help bullies change in positive ways.
John, 15, was highly concerned about his friend Derek. John stated, "I thought it was a joke at first when Derek made up a new username and started teasing Sara in a chat room we all visit. But the teasing got worse, it started getting mean. He even told her, ‘I hope you get run over by a car, you bitch.’ She got really freaked out because she didn’t know who it was, and when I saw her in school the next day, she was crying. I had no idea what to do! I wanted to call Derek on it, but I don’t want to lose a friend."
Although my main focus in the case of Derek and Sara was on the internet bully and victim, I also spent time with John. As you know, bystanders in any case of bully can be an important source of support and motivators for social change.
4 Technqiues for Friends of Bullies & Victims
Technique # 1 - Give Permission to Act on Feelings
A first therapeutic technique I introduced to John was to give permission to act on feelings. I have noticed that bystanders like John tend to feel afraid, embarrassed, and inadequate about their non responses to the abuses they observe. John, for example, was disgusted by Derek’s harassment of Sara, but felt paralyzed because he did not want to lose Derek’s friendship.
John stated, "Eventually, I just figured I’d do nothing. When Derek started harassing Sara during a chat session, I’d just leave and try to forget about it. But later on, I’d just feel miserable all over again because I was too chicken to say something." A first step for John was to learn to recognize and acknowledge how Derek’s behavior made him feel.
I asked John to keep a diary for one week of his emotional responses to Derek’s behavior. In addition, I assisted John in finding a professionally moderated internet support group for students who observe bullying. This allowed John to recognize that his feelings of discomfort were not unique.
Technique # 2 - Decide on Specific Actions
A second therapeutic technique I introduced to John was to decide on specific actions to take. As soon as John displayed an understanding of the uncomfortable feelings he had in response to Derek’s bullying, I shifted the focus of our session to discussing specific actions John could take.
I stated to John, "there are better and worse actions for bystanders to take, but any action that helps in any way will benefit everyone. Taking no action will likely just trap you in a pattern of not taking action. Remember, even if an action you take is ineffective or doesn’t go as planned, you can learn from the action, which can lead to better responses in the future. You might even start with something very small. If Derek starts targeting Sara in the chat room, you could say something like, ‘hey, we’re getting a bit off topic. Let’s finish talking about that movie.’ Even if Derek won’t change the subject, you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing you tried something. Then the next time, you’ll be that much closer to finding an effective response, if one exists."
Technique # 3 - "Make a Connection"
In addition to giving permission to act on feelings and deciding on specific actions to take, a third technique which I suggested to John is to provide immediate and follow-up support for victims. John, like many bystanders, felt that he should support Sara, but had difficulty recognizing ways to give her support. Have you found, like I have, that bystanders and victims often have a hard time relating due to the victim’s embarrassment and the bystander’s anxiety?
I recommended the "Make a Connection" technique for Jim to help him reduce his feelings of anxiety and guilt by reaching out to Sara in small supportive ways. I invited Jim to make a list with me of positive, immediate, low-stress actions he could take to reach out to Sara when Derek begins using abusive language in the chat room.
Positive & Immediate Actions
Jim came up with the following list:
-- A. Send a personal message to Sara immediately asking her if she is ok
-- B. Chat with Sara about casual unrelated topics through personal messages or instant messaging
-- C. Make sure to encourage Sara when she says something in the chat room about a personal accomplishment
-- D. Invite Sara to talk about serious things and problems when she needs to
-- E. Express a desire to find additional ways to help
-- F. Offer this support consistently, not just once
Technique # 4 - Help Bullies Change
A fourth technique I recommended to John is to help bullies change in ways that are positive for themselves and for others. John stated, "I’m worried about losing Derek as a friend, especially seeing the way he treats people he doesn’t like. But at the same time, he kind of disgusts me right now. It’s like he’s become this horrible person, and I don’t really want to be around me at all."
While I explained to John that this reaction was natural and understandable, I have found that this statement provided an opportunity to explain to John that rather than treating Derek as a person to be avoided because of bad behavior, he could use his friendship with Derek to see Derek as a human being who could be encouraged to give energy to his positive qualities.
I stated to John, "One way to encourage positive behavior in Derek is to make sure you use language that specifically denounces Derek’s actions in the chat room, and not Derek himself. For example stating, ‘what you said to Sara really stinks,’ denounces or condemns the actions he is taking. Statements like ‘that was terrible! You’re a jerk!’ are a personal attack that may make things worse." I explained to John that he could express his concern for Derek and his friendship by following a statement denouncing or condemning Derek’s actions with an expression of liking and concern such as ‘That’s not like you.’
Saying ‘that’s not like you’ opens the door for a discussion of Derek’s feelings, while a personal attack may dramatically worsen the valuable lines of communication between Derek and John. I also encouraged John to emphasize Derek’s positive, prosocial actions. Think of a case of internet bullying in which you are currently involved. Would working with bystanders to the incident like John help increase the social support and skill-building opportunities for both internet bully and victim?
On this track, we have discussed four therapeutic interventions for the friends of internet bullies and their victims. These four interventions are, give permission to act on feelings, decide on specific actions, provide immediate and follow up support for victims, and help bullies change in positive ways.
On the next track we will discuss three ideas for including the parents and families of both internet bully and victim in establishing a healing process for both students. These three ideas are modeling appropriate behaviors, modifying enmeshed or disengaged families, and encouraging consistency.
- Paulson, A., (2003). Internet Bullying. Christian Science Monitor.
Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Byers, D. S., & Cerulli, M. (2020). Staying in their own lane: Ethical reasoning among college students witnessing cyberbullying. Journal of Diversity in Higher Education. Advance online publication.
Yang, C., Sharkey, J. D., Reed, L. A., Chen, C., & Dowdy, E. (2018). Bullying victimization and student engagement in elementary, middle, and high schools: Moderating role of school climate. School Psychology Quarterly, 33(1), 54–64.
Yang, C., Sharkey, J. D., Reed, L. A., & Dowdy, E. (2020). Cyberbullying victimization and student engagement among adolescents: Does school climate matter? School Psychology, 35(2), 158–169.
What are four therapeutic interventions for bystanders to internet bullying?
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