I remember heading home on a commuter train from my job as a lawyer job in Philadelphia over 30 years ago. A group of five boys, around 10 years old, from a private school I knew well, were heading out to their homes in the suburbs after school.

I was astonished how mean four of the boys were being to the fifth. They were grabbing his book bag, calling him names, and doing their best to make him cry .I was preparing myself to intervene or to ask the conductor to do so when they all got off at their stop. I wondered what their school was teaching which could be more important than what they were not teaching, respect, compassion, kindness.

On that train, the kids had no supervision, no responsible overseer to protect the vulnerable among them and to restrain the bullies. In those days, there were few such opportunities for this to go on, at least once the boys were safely at home.

But today, kids can be bullied from afar, even when they are presumably safe in their bedrooms, with loving parents right nearby in another room.

That’s a major downside of the social media platforms. The pseudo-anonymous, non-face-to-face nature of the interactions gives opportunity for 24-7 bullying and emotional abuse, with little recourse.

On a playground, in school, in the environs of a parent or sitter, a child can appeal for help or escape a bully. But the intrusiveness and privacy of one’s own social media address seem to make the potential victim almost more vulnerable, and the bully even more aggressive and belligerent. And even worse, practical “jokes” and tricks can be misinterpreted because there is less context to the interaction.

Last month it was reported that an 11-year-old boy took his own life when his supposed 13-year-old girlfriend faked her own death on social media. It is ghastly to even imagine what must have been going on in his mind, or in hers.

The mother seeks to have the girl punished for cyberbullying. Prosecutors say it is against Michigan law to make malicious use of telecommunications and to use a computer to commit a crime. It is a crime to make a false report about someone’s death.

The boy’s mother said he was not lonely, had friends, was fully engaged in school activities and showed no signs of trouble before this happened.

Apparently the girl used a friend’s account to tell the boy that the girl had committed suicide, and when he replied that he was going to do the same, there was no response.

The second of three brothers, Tysen Goss had had a good afternoon according to his mother. He had come home proud he had gone to tutoring on his own that day, and they made brownies together before he went to his room, as he often did. When she went to his room at bedtime, she found he had hung himself, but still had a heartbeat. He died in the hospital weeks later, amid an outflow of well-wishes and gestures from school friends, friends and community.

Such a horrible event makes the news because it is relatively rare, but it is just the tip of the ice berg when it comes to cypberbullying. Think of all the kids, and adults, who must deal with online insults and tricks, rumors and lies, and who must find ways to cope with these, without choosing the extreme of taking their own lives, the permanent non-solution.

Parents must be more vigilant than ever to ask questions, know who their children’s friends are, on and off line, ask and listen to what is happening this week, or this afternoon, and know who they are texting, instant messaging, and so on, at any given time.

Not all disasters can be prevented, but supervision is critical as kids are transitioning from childhood to young adulthood. They are more exposed than ever, and earlier and earlier through video and digital media, to a range of options and possibilities which we parents rarely encountered until much later in our lives.

Our parents could just turn off the TV or radio and the world could no longer intrude. Now we must take the mobile phone, sequester the computer and tablet, and shut off the TV to guard our child’s environment. We must establish guidelines for content, parental control, schedules, and reviews.

It can be a daunting job and we don’t want to be always nagging to see what is going on or to control the hours of use and the constantly shifting content and favorite platforms.

Prevention is always the best, and today it’s almost the only solution. Once your child decides they want no supervision, it is really hard, though not impossible, to reconnect.

So the easier way is to develop a relationship, from toddlerhood on, of trust, openness, and sharing, child and parent. Judgment and recrimination are the quickest ways to shut down a child, so listen and ask questions whenever you can without judging or interjecting well-meaning advice.

And avoid shaming or chastising. Our kids are always doing their best as they see it, so give them credit for that. Offer suggestions and discussions before crises happen, or before issues arise, about how bad things happen and how to respond.

Do share ugly news events, always only in age-appropriate detail, and talk about various healthy options for response. Share your own close calls with bullies. Talk about what you did or wish you had done or would do today.

Talk about what would be a tolerable practical joke and what would be the line beyond which a friend would never step. Talk about how to tell a friendly jibe from a nasty one. Our children crave guidance, and we, the experienced adults who love them  are the ones who can give the best support.

And educate your child about compassion, respect, and kindness. Exhibit these yourself, when dealing with your own friends, with pets and animals. How do they see you reacting to items you see on TV or social media? They are always watching and learning. Think about what model you want to present in order to give them good coping tools.

Trust that your child wants to learn from you and your experience and send love and positive thoughts to him or her at all times. And always save time to “hang out,” because that is when they start talking, when they feel confident and relaxed.

According to the 2015 annual survey of parents conducted by the University of Michigan’s C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital, bullying was the second biggest health concern, after childhood obesity, as it had been also in 2014.And the survey found that parents had different assessments of what was bullying.

These kinds conversations must go on on the public stage, but especially with your children.

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