Preventing Cyberbullying “Right from the Start”

Bullying, in particular, cyberbullying, has become the new nightmare of many a parent living in the digital age. What is it and what can we do about it?

Developing Media Literacy

When we talk about the development of media literacy, there is one particularly important aspect that we must not forget – the education of children on cyberbullying. The devastating consequences have been seen in the media over the years and these are only a handful of the cases that have been reported:

  • 12-year-old Rececca Sedwick had been brutally cyberbullied by classmates before taking her own life. In the days leading up to her death, she was sent online messages that read “Why aren’t you dead?” “Youshould die.” “Wait a minute, why are you still alive?” “Go kill yourself.”
  • Hannah Smith was 14 when she hanged herself after being harassed about her looks on the website
  • 15-year-old Jordan Lewis committed suicide by shooting himself in the chest, after being cruelly taunted by classmates online and off.

What is Cyberbullying?

Firstly, what is cyberbullying? Cyberbullying involves using technology, like cell phones and the Internet, to bully or harass another person. It affects many adolescents and teens on a daily basis and can take any number of forms:

  • Sending mean messages or threats to a person’s email account or cell phone
  • Spreading rumors online or through texts
  • Posting hurtful or threatening messages on social networking sites or web pages
  • Stealing a person’s account information to break into their account and send damaging messages
  • Pretending to be someone else online to hurt another person
  • Taking unflattering pictures of a person and spreading them through cell phones or the Internet
  • Sexting, or circulating sexually suggestive pictures or messages about a person

Source: Bullying Statistics


Image Source: No Bullying

The Statistics

Device usage among young children:

  • Cell phones, tablets and other digital devices have become part of the daily lives of young children. By grade three, 18 to 20% of children report they have their own cell phone (Englander, 2011).
  • 38% of children under the age of two are now using smartphones, tablets and e-readers at the same rate as children eight and under were two years ago (Common Sense Media, 2013).
  • Among five- to eight-year-olds, mobile media usage has risen from 52% to 83% (Common Sense Media, 2013).
  • In some areas, kindergartners are issued tablets on the first day of school.

Statistics about online among teens and tweens from Pew Internet:

  • Fully 95% of all teens ages 12-17 are now online and 80% of those online teens are users of social media sites.
  • 88% of social media-using teens have witnessed other people be mean or cruel on social network sites. 12% say they witnessed cruel behavior “frequently.”
  • 19% of teens reported being bullied in the past year either in person, online, by text, or by phone.

Cyberbullying Education

With everyone from politicians to celebrities using harassment and name-calling online, it has become even more important to lay the groundwork for children to develop both safe and responsible digital citizenship skills. Cyberbullying reaches its highest level in middle school. Starting early to change the tendency of cruelty online among adolescents is critical. Right from the Start in the Digital Age is an FHI 360 National Initiative that aims to prevent and protect children from cyberbullying and to create responsible and safe digital citizens from a young age.

 “Young children are tech savvy but not necessarily media literate. They might know how to use the device but they don’t truly understand its purpose and power. The challenge for parents and educators is how to convey abstract concepts of safety, permanence and privacy in terms that young children can understand.” – Barbara Sprung, Co-Director, Educational Equity at FHI 360.

Right from the Start in the Digital Age

Right from the Start in the Digital Age has released a position paper, as well as downloadable curricula activities to help parents and teachers teach children to become good digital citizens.


Image Source: Raw Hide

Mental Toughness and Resilience

Mental toughness and resilience are two qualities that are often on my mind when I think of the kind of attributes I would like my children to develop. So when personal life coach, Clive Leach, came to GIS to talk about Mental Toughness, I knew I couldn’t miss this one…

Mental Toughness – What is it? Do you need it? Have you got it?

Flourish [verb]

  • to thrive; grow well; be healthy
  • to prosper; be successful; do well

Before we can talk about mental toughness, we need to know how well our children doing. In science, the term for that is “flourish”. If we aren’t flourishing, we don’t have what we need to be mentally tough. It’s a little like needing to meet the basic needs on Maslow’s Hierarchy before we can tend to our higher aspirations.

What do we need to flourish?


  • Positive Emotion
    • the ability to be optimistic and view the past, present, and future in a positive perspective.
    • joy, inspiration, gratitude, hope, pride, serenity, amusement, curiosity, awe, love.
  • Engagement – the ability to participate in a project that entirely absorbs us in the present moment.
  • Relationships – the need for connection, love, intimacy, and a strong emotional and physical interaction with others.
  • Meaning – having purpose in life.
  • Accomplishment – having goals and ambition that give us a sense of satisfaction when we achieve them.

Source: Pinterest

Predictors for Flourishing Across the Lifespan:

What do children need for future well-being and success? It isn’t IQ, academic scores or money. They need:

Positive Education

IPEN – International Positive Education Network:

The goal of IPEN is to promote positive education – where the focus of education is not only academic achievement but also the development of character and overall student well-being.

Positive education is defined as education for both traditional skills and for happiness. The high prevalence worldwide of depression among young people, the small rise in life satisfaction, and the synergy between learning and positive emotion all argue that the skills for happiness should be taught in school. There is substantial evidence from well controlled studies that skills that increase resilience, positive emotion, engagement and meaning can be taught to schoolchildren. – Oxford Review of Education

Positive education in schools helps to teach children not only the skills to be successful but what they need to flourish in life.

Mental Toughness

Mental toughness has often been associated with performance in sports. Recent research suggests that mental toughness may also have some bearing on academic performance in school.

See: Mental toughness in education: exploring relationships with attainment, attendance, behaviour and peer relationships – Educational Psychology

How can we measure mental toughness? The MTQ48 Mental Toughness Questionaire measures the following outcomes which can provide a good gauge:

  • Academic performance
  • Positive behaviours
  • Student well-being
  • Completion/Drop out
  • Career aspirations
  • Employability
  • Staff well-being

Mental Toughness vs Resilience

Mental toughness and resilience are often used interchangeably but there is a difference:

  • Resilience is having the ability to persevere when obstacles are thrown at you.
  • Mental Toughness is choosing to take the path with the obstacles even when we know an easier path exists.

Mental toughness, therefore, is one step ahead of resilience. We want our children to be resilient in the face of adversity but we also want them to have the mental toughness to take the road less travelled.

Building Mental Toughness

How do we build mental toughness? Start with the 4 C’s of mental toughness:

  • Control – feeling in control of your life and your circumstances.
  • Commitment – goal orientation, willingness to stick to it and see it through.
  • Challenge – willingness to change, tackle obstacles, and take risks.
  • Confidence – the belief in your own abilities to handle conflict and challenges.
Mental Toughness - 4Cs

Image Source: AQR International

Looking After Ourselves

As parents we often forget ourselves but we cannot help our children if we don’t take care of ourselves first. It is exactly like the emergency aeroplane scenario – if we don’t put on our oxygen mask first, we may be unconscious before we can help our children with theirs.

Are you seaworthy?

Similarly, our children also need to be seaworthy before their mental toughness can be at optimum.

Area of Control

In our lives there are things that we can control and those that we can’t. It is pointless to worry about the things beyond our control since we do not have any influence over them. What we can do is focus on the things we can control.

Circle of Concern vs Circle of Influence

Image Source: Slideshare

Image Source: Slideshare

What we can control (Circle of Influence):

  • Health care
  • Diet and nutrition
  • Exercise and fitness
  • How we plan and prepare
  • Sleep, relaxation and recovery
  • Our perspective
  • Emotional regulation

Emotional Control – Develop a Reality Mindset

I’ve had many catatrophes in my life. Most of which never actually happen.” – Mark Twain

Develop emotional control by watching the A.N.T.s (Automatic Negative Thoughts) and replacing them with P.E.T.s (Performance Enhancing Thoughts)! Here are some ways to do that:

Learned Optimism – PRESENT

  • Notice negative thinking and consequences
  • Challenge them, get a perspective and take action

Best Self Exercise – PAST

  • Consider your achievements to date
  • Create affirmations and reminders

Best Possible Self Exercise – FUTURE

  • Write a letter to the future using mental imagery / visualisation of what you aspire your future to be like.
  • Identify what would you require to have lived a “good life”?

Gratitude Exercises – PRESENT / PAST

  • Regular practice of recognising 3 good things in your life – What’s working well and why?
  • Gratitude visit – express your gratitude to someone in your life.


Relationships are one of the most powerful things we can have. They have a “Butterfly Effect” on our lives. We need to cultivate our relationships and teach our children to do the same.

  • The 3:1 positivity to negativity ratio
  • Self-focused / Other-focused
  • Asking / Telling
  • Kindness and altruism
  • Gratitude and Forgiveness
  • Humour and Playfulness
  • Amplifies flourishing and trust
  • Buffers against adversity

GROW Coaching Conversations

The GROW Model is another great way to help children flourish. Here’s how you can use the GROW Coaching model:

Image Source: Discovery in Action

More about the Grow Model:

Key Coaching Skills:

  • Asking powerful questions
  • Listening for potential
  • Looking for strengths
  • Being present, challenging and encouraging

Provide opportunities for coaching and growing experiences, like these:

  • The Helmsman Project – combining coaching and adventure education to bring about lasting, positive changes in the lives of adolescents.
  • Flying Fish – adventure training and experiences in water and mountain sports.

For example, in navigating a boat, the children learn how a slight change in the direction of their course can have a significant impact on their final destination. It links back to how even small changes in their lives can have a big impact in their future.

I have long felt that adventure education and sports offer powerful learning experiences. I know I learned many of my most important lessons in life through hiking, rock climbing and skiing.


Adversity – Why Children Need It

Adversity is the mother of progress. – Mahatma Gandhi

Adversity Breeds Success

Image Source: Pinterest

There is a breed of parents called the “snowplow” parents who are said to be different from the helicopter parent. Where helicopter parents are known to hover over their children, snowplow parents are better known for attempting to smooth the road for their children.

Helicopter parents hover and micro-manage out of fear. They observe every morsel that enters their child’s body, they monitor their every move, they keep a close eye on every scrap of homework. They hold their kids close to them because they’re anxious about the big, wide world.

Snow plow parents constantly force obstacles out of their kids’ paths. They have their eye on the future success of their child, and anyone or anything that stands in their way has to be removed. They are the parents sitting in the principal’s office asking about extra courses or for special allowances for their child. According to educators, there is a sense of entitlement to snowplowers: They blame the school when things go wrong and never accept anything less than first place for their child.

Today’s Parent

It is understandable to want to give your children a “leg-up” in this ultra-competitive world that we live in, but it is a very fine line between giving your child a “helping hand” and crippling your child. It seems obvious enough and yet the problem is growing. More and more parents have gone from being supportive to doing too much. We have parents calling college professors to complain about their children’s grades. There are even parents attending job interviews with their children! Then there was that mother who disguise herself as her 19 year old daughter so she could sit for her daughter’s exam. It doesn’t stop there.

One of the hardest tasks of being a parent is having to watch our children struggle. Too often, we want to swoop in and save the day. Yet, to do so would a huge disservice to our children. The struggle is an important life lesson that our children can only learn by going through it. When we rescue them, we rob them of the opportunity to see what they could have achieved.

Adversity Brings Perspective

In a study from the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, researchers “found that people who had experienced a few adverse events in their lives reported better mental health and well being than people with a history of frequent adversity and people with no history of misfortune”. I believe this is because adversity provides perspective. How will you ever appreciate the good you’ve got it if you don’t know how bad things can get?

Adversity Builds Character

Adversity makes us strongerThe German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, said “That which does not kill us, makes us stronger”. The question is – will adversity make or break your child?

“…there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” – Shakespeare

Too often, the reason we shield our children is because we want to spare them the pain of failing. Every time we step in, we are unwittingly telling our children we think they can’t handle it. If we do this enough times, they may eventually believe it.

It is how we view adversity and how we help our children handle it that can alter the outcome of adversity and make it either good or bad. So how will you handle it? Will you teach your child to find their strength in adversity?

For more inspiration, see:

Adversity is to resilience what exercise is to muscles. The rules for building both are the same:

  • Just as we can injure ourselves by lifting weights that are too heavy for us, adversity that overwhelms our children can be harmful.
  • In order to build muscle, we need to push ourselves just hard enough to push the limits of our muscles without overwhelming them. The same goes with adversity and resilience.
  • Building muscle requires regular exercise; likewise, building resilience requires regular exposure to adversity.

Adversity Induces Creativity

Trauma shatters prior assumptions about the world and oneself. – Ronnie Janoff-Bulman, psychologist from the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

For some people, adversity can be a tremendous source of inspiration. It is theorised that this is because the experience of adversity can alter our perspective on life and this change leads to enhanced creativity.

The results showed that conscientiousness, agreeableness, and openness to experience significantly related to the total PTG and most of the domains. – Psychotraumatology

The people most likely to thrive in adverse conditions are those who are agreeable, open to experience and consciencious. That brings up back to raising children who are conscientious and open to experience which we know is four times more important than intelligence for predicting academic success.

Adversity is an Education


If too much adversity can overwhelm our children, then why don’t we just save ourselves the trouble and become a snow plow parent?

I won’t pretend that all adversity is great. Neither am I suggesting that all children will walk away from it with a beautiful experience they will remember for the rest of their lives. No, it is not romantic as that. But children need to experience the challenges that life brings because they are opportunities for children to learn from. They are life’s lessons that no parent can teach through words alone.

I have often noticed that some precocious children seem less resilient than other children. I believe that this is because they glide through life so effortlessly that they never learn the value of the struggle. While other children face challenges early in life and learn from them, precocious children often don’t encounter the challenge until they are much older. By that time, they’re floundering because they have no experience with the struggle.

It may be the hardest thing in the world to see your child struggle. The best thing you can do is to let your child fail and be there to help them pick up the pieces. In the end, your love and emotional support in a difficult time can be the more valuable experience for your child.