In the last section, we discussed two of the central problems inherent to internet bullying. These two problems are, internet bullying is highly sexual, and internet bullying is perceived as inescapable.
In this section, we will discuss three steps regarding helping adolescents in an internet bullying crisis. These three steps are convey realistic concern without undue anxiety, delay making final judgments, and develop positive working relationships with everyone.
Tommy, age 13, hung out with a popular crowd at school, but was very small for his age. Soon after the start of the school year, a girl from his class, Amy, began taunting Tommy about his size through instant messages and emails. Amy also would continually challenge Tommy to perform physical activities for which he was incapable, like running around the school track in under 7 minutes, or jumping across a ditch. A month after Amy’s bullying began, Tommy’s responded in kind. He digitally edited a photo from a pornographic site, putting Amy’s face on a girl in the picture. Tommy then circulated the photo to his classmates.
Recognizing Common Issues Technique - 3 Steps
When another student brought the photo to the attention of the administration, both Amy and Tommy were brought in for counseling. I suggested that the recognizing common issues technique might be a useful initial intervention to help both Amy and Tommy understand why their behavior was being directly addressed by the school.
Step # 1 - Convey Realistic Concern
The first step in the recognizing common issues technique is to convey realistic concern without undue anxiety. As you have experienced, people have competing natural inclinations to reduce tension as much as possible for comfort, and to increase concern as much as possible to assure attention to the situation. Intervention in this step may require individuals to:
1. See the situation and its possible consequences objectively
2. Recognize the participants level of concern
3. Recognize the needs of each participant
4. De-escalate or escalate perceptions of the situation as necessary to achieve appropriate concern without excessive anxiety.
For Tommy and Amy, this involved honest explanations to each student of the full impact of their behavior on the other party during the first intervention session. Amy stated, “I know it wasn’t really me in that picture, but I feel so humiliated! I feel like the boys in the class see that picture when they talk to me, and I just want to crawl in a hole and hide forever!” Sugarcoating Amy’s reaction when discussing the incident with Tommy would have prevented him from understanding the true severity of the incident.
However, over-emphasizing Amy’s reaction could have created an anxiety level in Tommy which would reduce the effectiveness of the intervention. Clearly, the balance between moderating anxiety and allowing participants to recognize the true severity of an incident is delicate. Think of your Tommy and Amy. What steps do you take to ensure this balance?
Step #2 - Delay Making Final Judgments
A second step in the recognizing common issues technique is to delay making final judgments. Because of the severe and sexual nature of Tommy’s offense, I found that several adults involved in the incident were quick to label Tommy’s behavior as inexcusable, and Tommy as the worst offender. As you know, this may, not unjustly, supported by school regulations. However, this attitude conveyed to Tommy that in addition to being bullied by Amy, he was not liked, not trusted, and not treated with the consideration and objectivity accorded to Amy.
Tommy stated, “Everybody keeps treating me like I’m so bad, and feeling sorry for Amy. She’s the one who started it! What she said to me was wrong too!” Although other adults involved in the case wanted administrative action taken against Tommy immediately, I suggested that any administrative judgments wait. Such immediate punishment, clearly, would only increase Tommy’s anger and increase his resistance to reflection on his behavior. By delaying the judgment and considering both student’s sides of the issue openly and objectively, I was able to demonstrate to Tommy before judgment was passed that adults believed in his ability to change.
Step #3 - Develop Positive Working Relationships
In addition to conveying realistic concern and delaying final judgments, a third step in the recognizing common issues technique is to attempt to develop positive working relationships with everyone. At this stage, I did not attempt to counsel or problem solve with either Amy or Tommy. Instead, I attempted to explain to both students that I would strive to do whatever possible to demonstrate that I was willing and able to listen to both of them, and work fairly with both students.
I also attempted to explain that more would be done when things had calmed down. During our first meeting, I stated to both Amy and Tommy, “there will be a time and a place to hear both of your sides. This is not that time or place. Right now, I want both of you to take some time to calm down and go about your business. Soon, we will have another meeting, and we will also talk to the principal about what is going to happen.”
Questions for Assessing Understanding
I also listened for recognition of the problem from both Tommy and Amy. To ensure that both students understood the problem, and that there is a process that will take place to follow up on ways to deal with the problem, I asked the following three questions of both students.
-- Do you understand why the situation is a problem?
-- Do you understand why the school has become involved and called you both here?
-- Do you understand what is going to happen next, and why the adults who care about both of you are taking these steps?
When both Tommy and Amy could display their understanding of the problem and the steps that would be taken, I called an end to the first session, and began working with the school administrators on what kinds of appropriate actions could be taken. I felt that problem solving between the two students could wait until a more concrete plan had been worked out with the parents and administrators involved. Think of your Tommy and Amy. Might using the recognizing common issues technique have served as a positive first intervention for these students in your internet bullying case?
In this section, we have discussed the three steps in the recognizing common issues technique for helping adolescents in an internet bullying crisis. These three steps are convey realistic concern without undue anxiety, delay making final judgments, and develop positive working relationships with everyone.
- Harmon, A. (2004). Internet Gives Teenage Bullies Weapons to Wound from Afar. The New York Times.
Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
Mehari, K. R., & Farrell, A. D. (2018). Where does cyberbullying fit? A comparison of competing models of adolescent aggression. Psychology of Violence, 8(1), 31–42.
Mehari, K. R., Farrell, A. D., & Le, A.-T. H. (2014). Cyberbullying among adolescents: Measures in search of a construct. Psychology of Violence, 4(4), 399–415.
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 the three steps in the recognizing common issues technique?
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