A Potential Response to Cyberbullying: Talking to the Parents of the Bully

A Potential Response to Cyberbullying: Talking to the Parents of the Bully Cyberbullying Research Center

I received an email from an educator who attended a recent presentation.  She asked if it is advisable for the parents of cyberbullying victims to contact the parents of the cyberbullies to try to resolve the situation.  This can be a very tricky proposition.  In theory, this seems like a very good approach and for many parents can be an effective strategy.  However, victims of any form of bullying are usually terrified by the prospects of this idea.  They believe that confronting the parents of the bully will only make matters worse.  And it certainly can, if the conversation is not approached delicately.

The problem is that some parents confronted with accusations that their child is a bully or cyberbully may become defensive and therefore may not be receptive to your thoughts, ideas, or any formal or informal intervention.  They might immediately put up a “wall” and become incredibly defensive. The key here really is to protect the safety of your bullied child.  As a parent about to have this conversation, first carefully weigh the various factors at hand and take into consideration the “totality of circumstances” as the courts like to say.  Do you know the parents?  How receptive do you think they would be? Is the bully a former friend of your child? Have there been problems in the past? Will you as a parent have to deal with collateral damage in other social situations, if you and the parent of the bully interact in other environments?

Sameer has heard of an instance where the father of a bully “got back” at the father of a victim by embarrassing him and picking on him in front of their other friends during their weekly softball games. Of course, middle-aged male softball players sometimes demonstrate exaggerated masculinity and work to display bravado and primitive strength in a collective setting. The pointed “elbow-ribbing” and tongue-in-cheek comments made the father of the victim feel ostracized and emasculated, since all of the other men all believed his own son should have been able to handle himself like a “real man” instead of tattling to “daddy.”

Also, if the students attend the same school, it is probably a good idea to inform the administration of the situation so that they can monitor the interactions at school to make sure there is no retaliation.  Moreover, I have found that school counselors are among the best at handling relationship problems and can offer advice about how to deal with what is going on.  They are often willing to intervene quietly in a way that stops the harassment without unduly instigating the bully or his/her family.

Because each situation is different and clearly complicated, it is difficult for me to say with any certainty that confronting the parents of the bully is a good idea.  All I can say is that if you choose this approach, be sure to tread lightly and keep in mind what life was like when you were a teenager.  Also consider how you would feel if someone confronted you about the behavior of your child.  It is easy to say that you would listen calmly and respond appropriately, but would you?  That crazy “do unto others” rule might apply to our behaviors as adults just as much as it does to what our children are doing.


  1. I have to say that I think it is almost always a good idea for a parent to make the attempt to handle a cyberbullying issue by contacting the other parent first. I realize that this may not always be effective for many reasons. For example, people are naturally very defensive when being confronted, and even more so when it is about their child. Additionally, I believe that the very personality traits that can lead one to become a bully are often learned behaviors from the home and so there could be a "trickle down effect" whereby the bully's parents use the same communication style as their child and are prone to bullying behavior themselves. It doesn't surprise me to read about the example where a father regretted his choice after reaching out to another father and having it result in that father taunting him and turning other parents against him.

    However, I think it is also true when the very astute author of "Queen Bees and Wannabees", Rosalind Wiseman pointed out that too many parents avoid directly confronting other parents because it is "awkward" for them and so they prefer to go to the school and seek help there. Parents need to deal with a little awkwardness or uncomfortability in order to give the situation the best chance at a positive outcome. I think everyone who gets confronted about something would prefer it be handled at the most local level rather than feel a person didn't give them a chance and simply went straight to the school or the authorities. Yes, there will be plenty of times when it doesn't go well or smoothly, but at least the parents will have given it a try first.

    Rosalind Wiseman actually gives a great script for parents to use in confronting another parent that I think gives them the best chance of success and also creates the least threatening form of confrontation for the parent on the receiving end. That script can be found in her response to a New York Times article called "Why Parents Should Do Their Own Dirty Work" by going to the following link (http://rosalindwiseman.com/2010/06/30/rosalind-responds-to-nyt-article-part-i-why-parents-should-do-their-own-dirty-work/). The script even helps parents know how to handle the conversation if the parent responds well, as well as if they don't.

    In summary, I think it is a great idea to try your best to reach out to parents first when dealing with any conflict. Not only because I think the lowest level of confrontation stands the best chance for success, but also because it models for our children how to problem solve and handle conflicts constructively, which is such a useful tool for them moving forward. We need to teach our children that it is normal to feel awkward and to have anxiety about standing up for ourselves, but that it is worth it because they are worth it!

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