There has been an online incident involving your child. You may be experiencing a wide range of emotions which can feel overwhelming. Different people react in different ways, but they are all normal responses when we have been told that something negative has happened to our children. The first thing which normally happens is that our automatic stress system is triggered. Due to our evolutionary need to protect their child, most parents when hearing news that their children have been involved in an online incident experience fear from feeling out of control and/or being helpless. To help us overcome this and return our bodies back to a relaxed state, the stress reaction allows us to take action.
However sometimes the emotions that can arise from our stress reaction can overshadow the support that our children need in that moment. To be able to best support them and be fully present with them, we need to be aware of the impact the online incident is having on us so that we can manage our responses and reactions as effectively as possible. Children and teenagers are very sensitive and if their care giver reacts in a negative or emotional way, even if it is with the best intentions, they may feel that it is not safe to tell them and instead try to hide what has happened which usually has much greater consequences.
Some of the common reactions that parents experience include:
This may include shouting, aggression and/or blaming which may be directed at the child, school, police or whoever else is involved. This purpose of this reaction is often to help us make sense of what has happened. If we feel that it is someone else’s fault or error, then our reaction may just force them to do something about it since we do not know ourselves what is needed to be done in that moment. Sometimes it can also be a way to avoid self-blame as when experiencing this, it can lead to feelings of guilt and again helplessness since the incident that has occurred cannot be undone. A parent who reacts from a place of anger can also make their child feel guilty and feel like they have done something wrong. It may also cause embarrassment and can prevent the child from developing the internal resilience needed to manage problems independently as an adult.
If the emotion or pain is too overwhelming, it can sometimes be easier to just ignore it and hope it will sort itself as a way to avoid dealing with it. This usually happens when we feel we do not have enough resources or emotional capacity to cope with the feelings of helplessness. Parents who do this may have a strong need to avoid sitting down and speaking to their child about what happened or may minimise what has occurred as not being a big deal. This may make the child feel like they are alone and have no one to support them.
Another common way parents deal with overwhelming emotions is to jump straight into overprotective mode. In real life, this can look like confiscating their child’s phones, their computers and/or doing whatever is necessary to prevent them from accessing the internet. This is an understandable reaction, as if their child is unable to access communication devices then further harm can not occur. However, this can leave their child to build resentment and become secretive when they do regain access.
Tips for managing these emotions
It is again important to remember that you are biologically programmed as a human to have these reactions and there is absolutely no shame if you have reacted in any of the ways listed above. You are simply driven by an instinctual need to protect your child at all costs. For the sake of everyone involved however, there are certain things you can do to open the lines communication between you and your child in a more effective way where both of you feel respected and heard. Our top tips include:
Spend some time reflecting on how you personally react.
When you hear your child has been involved in an online incident, instead of automatically reacting, find a quiet space where you can sit for 5 minutes and pay attention to your stress levels.
If you are experiencing high levels of stress, take another 5 minutes to do some breathing exercises to relax yourself.
Use our conversation prompts to start a healthy dialogue with your child.
Ask your child how they feel and what you can do to help them.
Calmly follow the processes outlined in the first aid box.