Hey Elderly Aunt, help me help my daughter avoid cyberbullying

Like many parents, I’m concerned about the fall school year but not just because of the uncertainty that comes with online learning. My daughter, who is in middle school, has already been the target of bullying.  Some other girls in her grade criticized her clothes and appearance and her music choices last year. She’s not eager to share with me but she had a couple of friends from church who are in her grade, though not in her classes, that I think she sometimes confided in. I worry that the bullying might resume in the form of cyberbullying and without her ability to connect with others in person, I’m afraid the isolation will only compound the problem. What can I do as a parent to help her navigate this? Thanks for helping me. 

Ah yes! Middle school. The Elderly Aunt remembers her own middle school years as one of the most challenging times of her own becoming (in the Michelle Obama sense of the word.) Her body was changing, her hormones were bubbling, she was newly and uncomfortably aware of herself as someone with opinions, abilities and values of her own that weren’t always in step with her parents and/or other people. What a gloriously exhilarating, cringe-worthy, educational, confusing time it was! Looking back, her middle school years marked the real beginning of the Elderly Aunt growing up into who she is, as opposed to who her peers—and, yes, her parents—thought she should be. 

The process of becoming who we really are is not for sissies. That’s  probably why so many of us chicken out during that process and instead settle for Thoreau’s lives of “quiet desperation.” Or—in the case of middle school bullies who continue the miserable practice as adults—noisy desperation. 

Your concerns, dear reader, appear to be specifically centered in cyber-bullying—the quintessential platform of meanies during a pandemic and what you as a parent can do to help your daughter should she become a target of it.

First and foremost, if she won’t talk to you openly (not at all an unusual occurrence between adolescent daughters and their mothers), and she begins to exhibit worrisome signs of adolescent depression, take her to counseling.

Encourage your daughter to block anyone who cyber-bullies her. Help her understand she has a choice in the matter, that small-minded meanies have only as much online power over her as she gives them. At the same time, encourage your daughter to set up her own private social-media groups so she will have a safe online space to hang with her friends. 

Don’t hover. Don’t let your worries about your daughter’s susceptibility to cyber-bullying dominate your own relationship with her. Mothers are powerful figures in their daughter’s lives. Your worrying excessively about anything sends your daughter the message that, in her mother’s opinion, there is something wrong with her that she needs to worry about. Instead, center your relationship with your daughter in her strengths, whatever they are. 

Model your own comfort with nonconformity for her. Let her see your own independent-mindedness in action. 

Accept that your daughter has to do a large part of the messy process of growing up on her own.  Encourage her independence. Certainly, we mothers can keep our daughters company during their adolescence, but once we start trying to de-mess the process completely, we’re stunting their “becoming” bigtime.  

Help your daughter understand that other people’s bad behavior is their problem, not hers. 

The Elderly Aunt has a very good friend who is always waving her hand dismissively at other people’s bad behavior and saying airily, “Purple Cow! Purple Cow!”  

She is referring, of course, to the lovely nonsense ditty of Gelett Burgess:

I never saw a Purple Cow,
I never hope to see one;
But I can tell you, anyhow,
I’d rather see than be one.

The Elderly Aunt long ago began using her friend’s Purple Cow Technique as her way-of-choice to diminish the ability of other people’s idiotic behavior to ruin her day. She suggests, dear reader, that you show the Purple Cow ditty to your daughter and encourage her to indulge in a little airy hand waving and Purple Cow shouting of her own. 

Your daughter is most welcome to connect with the Elderly Aunt through social media if she’d like some coaching up in the refinements of her Purple Cow technique.

The Elderly Aunt offers her thoughtful responses to your questions about this wild ride we call life on every other Monday.  And as a general disclaimer—to quote the elves from The Lord of the Rings — “… advice is a dangerous gift, even given from the wise to the wise.”

Got a question for the Elderly Aunt? Ask her on Facebook or email your question to [email protected] with the subject line “Elderly Aunt question.” (Just please don’t ask detailed financial questions). 

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