what to do about bullyingImagine the embarrassment of sending a naked picture to someone you care about because you thought he liked you, only to find out he shared it with the guys on the football team.

You’re already horrified and embarrassed to walk down the hall at school because you feel like everyone knows and they’re all laughing at you, then your friends turn against you and aren’t speaking to you. They don’t tell you why, they just ghost you.

The stories I hear in my girls’ sexting groups are heartbreaking. Consistently, the repercussions of sexting include being bullied by peers, especially girls. Girls can be mean, outright nasty.

There is a name for it: mean girl syndrome. The clinical name for this behavior is relational aggression.

Bullying comes in many forms, impacting the victim physically and emotionally. Relational aggression is emotionally abusive behavior. Although boys are capable of relational aggression, it is more prevalent in girls.

Relational aggression damages relationships and can negatively affect social status. Most often it’s the aggressor’s attempt to bring someone down while building themselves up. It can include: gossiping, excluding, spreading rumors or secrets, ignoring, or recruiting others in the negative behavior.

Although relational aggression doesn’t leave physical marks, the emotional impact can result in long tern negative effects. This type of bullying can wear down self-esteem and lead to an increase of anxiety, depression, eating disorders and suicidal ideations.

One Friday, I was running a sexting group for girls and several the participants were wearing Day Without Hate t-shirts. I was unfamiliar, so asked about it. One of the girls explained, “One day a year people pretend to be nicer to each other.” Day Without Hate is a positive campaign, however why can’t we raise the bar and teach kids that every day should be a day without hate?

If your child is being bullied

  • You don’t necessarily need to fix it: be a good listener, validate her feelings and empathize with her experience - don’t discount her feelings, criticize or judge her
  • Remember bullying doesn’t stop when they leave school, with social media it can be worse at night and on weekends - check their devices to see how things are going
  • Sometimes going to the bully’s family to address the problem isn’t the best answer, you might be dealing with a parent who modeled this behavior
  • Remind her what she has control over: herself, her actions and how she responds to others - she does not have control over anyone else's behavior
  • Talk about taking a break from social media, especially if it is making her feel worse
  • Talk about coping skills and different ways she can manage her emotions i.e. deep breathing, positive self-talk, journaling
  • You may need to contact the school or authorities if the situation gets worse, documentation can help, i.e. screenshots of posts and text messages
  • If she is really struggling, seek professional help, like a therapist or counselor

For more information about sexting, including conversation starters, teachable moments you can practice at home, facts parents need to know, and everything you need to do (and what NOT to do!) when it happens, subscribe now.

Be pro-active to deter bullying

  • Talk about the fact that those hurting people are often hurting themselves
  • Check yourself, how do you treat people? Your children are studying you and model their behavior after yours
  • Teach girls to be assertive and speak their minds appropriately, too often girls are raised to be people pleasers who do not have a voice
  • Teach empathy: understanding and caring about theirs and other people’s feelings
  • Encourage relationships with positive peers who treat people well
  • Find pro-social activities that improve self-esteem, like sports, clubs or youth groups

A Happy Ending

In one of my groups, a girl was pressured by a boy to send naked photos. The boy had a girlfriend and the girlfriend spread them in retaliation. The girls were both required to participate in my sexting group. I am strict with ground rules and ensure everyone feels safe. After five weeks of class focusing on empathy and being kind to others, the girls were able to hear each other’s story and empathize. The last night of group they both apologized and hugged. Sometimes it takes an eye-opening experience to understand other’s struggles.

Cheryl Kosmerl, MSW, LCSW

Cheryl Kosmerl, MSW, LCSW

I'm a clinical social worker and child advocate. After more than 20 years of working with children and adolescents in a variety of settings I created Sexting Solutions, a successful program designed to teach kids to respect themselves and others, show empathy and stop abuse. Intended as an alternative to legal consequences for kids who were caught sexting, it focuses on building skills that develop a solid foundation for healthier adolescent years and beyond. Connect with me on LinkedIn by clicking the icon directly below.