Consider This a Teaching Opportunity

By Sylvia Rimm

May 7, 2014 5 min read

Q: My son is small for his age, shy and quiet but generally well-behaved. He is 11 and in sixth grade. Last week I received a call from his teacher. A girl in his class had posted a picture on Instagram and asked if her "followers" liked her. He posted that she was a "b—-h" and "hoped she got hit by a bus." The girl's mother had discovered the post and brought it to the attention of the school. The teacher confronted my son. He said he was just kidding and was told to apologize to the girl. The girl acknowledged that they are friendly (but not good friends) and that she knew he was joking. He received a long lecture on bullying.

I was mortified and confronted my son. I know the girl; she is very nice and very popular. She is much more popular than my son. He told me this incident happened months ago. She posted the picture and set up a 1-10 rating system. Vote:

1. You love me

9. You are a b—ch

10. I hope you get hit by a bus

My son picked the mean numbers "just to be funny."

Of course, I provided him with another long lecture on bullying, the classic "If you don't have something nice to say, don't say anything," self-esteem, and whatever else I could think of. He also lost all social media FOREVER (LOL)!

My questions are:

—Why is the school involved? None of this happened on school property or during school hours.

—How much blame does the girl share? She set up the rating system.

—Does it matter the words "b—ch" and "hit by a bus" are not my son's? He just typed in numbers.

Oh, by the way, the girl's mother is also a teacher at the school!

A: The Internet provides parents with plenty of teaching opportunities, so consider this one fortunate. I believe the legal age for social media participation is age 12, and by that time, you can return his privileges as long as you are "friended" and have access to all his sites. Hopefully, these lectures from the school and his parents instilled some healthy fear into his Internet communication.

I have no doubt that his young friend was also lectured, and hopefully, gets the message as well. Perhaps she had a crush on your son and was hoping that he would choose No. 1 or at least No. 2. She may have felt really disappointed.

Most parents of young adolescents realize that they make some pretty sick stabs at humor in their efforts to impress their peers with how cool they are. Middle school teachers are particularly concerned about bullying, and while this may have been an overreaction, better an overreaction than a little girl "cutting herself" or threatening to attempt suicide. Even nice girls make mistakes. Perhaps she would have admitted he was her friend if he had said something nice. Consider how hurt she must have felt if she was hoping for a No. 1 rating.

Congratulations to you for not defending your son and instead lecturing him on being more sensitive. There's no need for grounding him for life — only for alerting him to be more careful. Humor, at the expense of others, can feel like bullying to victims, so he's learned a good lesson.

In my survey of over 5,000 middle-grade students and my focus groups with several hundred, the kids talked most about how technology has caused a gap between them and their parents. Moms and dads struggle with figuring out what those kids may be exploring next. You are not alone. It's a challenge for their teachers, too. Watch those kids carefully and keep them busy with plenty of school and family activities. They're perfectly contented with countless hours of screen time, but too much screen time poses many problems. It's parents' and educators' jobs to set boundaries, and it's technically harder than ever to accomplish that.

For free newsletters about "Growing Up Too Fast," "Internet Guidelines," "Helping Girls Build Optimism and Resilience," and/or "Raising Amazing Boys," send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to the address below.

Dr. Sylvia B. Rimm is the director of the Family Achievement Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio, a clinical professor of psychiatry and pediatrics at the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, and the author of many books on parenting. More information on raising kids is available at www.sylviarimm.com. Please send questions to: Sylvia B. Rimm on Raising Kids, P.O. Box 32, Watertown, WI 53094 or [email protected] To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.

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