THE BLOG
10/23/2013 12:56 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Firefighting: A Parent's Role in Helping Their Child Deal With Bullies

Survival instincts kick-in when your house is engulfed in flames.

Your first thought is to get out.

Once safe you might divert your attention to extinguishing the fire.

No one sits inside a burning building contemplating how the fire started or "discussing" how the blaze makes them feel.

Cyberbullying victims are not all that different -- their world is crashing in on them. They are in survival mode.

Parents often jump right in, trying to heal wounds that might not even exist.

The child is searching, perhaps unknowingly, for a different kind of help: firefighting.

What cyber-bullying victims face is not that dissimilar from the situations some of my CEO and celebrity clients face: vicious public attacks, anonymous online critics, and persistent defamation.

The difference, of course, is that my clients are most often public figures -- it goes with the territory, unfortunately.

But I've put my crisis management experience to work more than a few times helping young people deal with cyberbullying.

Last year I had the unfortunate experience of dealing with an online bullying attack aimed at me.

In my case, a bully took to the "worldwide" web and posted a malicious, self-serving blog on this very website, failing to disclose his conflicts-of-interest and without regard for fact.

Disgruntled because I chose not to hire him for a job, he retaliated online.

To their great credit, editors of this site acted responsibly, removing the post swiftly once the facts were provided and reviewed -- nothing arbitrary.

Nonetheless, the piece was out there for a few hours and had been tweeted and retweeted.

When the bully failed to get his way with one website, he took to his personal blog -- undeterred.

It is the age we live in: a digital spark can lead to a raging fire within minutes online.

In my case, fortunately, I knew what to do; even still, a rush of panic and anxiety hit me -- someone I had never met was smearing my reputation.

Kids do not know how to react to these attacks -- they are, obviously, not experienced as crisis managers. Neither are their parents in most cases.

Each instance is different, of course, so no cookie-cutter solutions exist.

There are however some general principles I am happy to pass on in the name of stymying the bullies of the world.

I was a volunteer firefighter in college and learned that the first step in knocking down a blaze is containment.

The same holds true for crisis and reputation management: do not add to the problem by escalating the issue.

Fire needs three ingredients: heat, oxygen and fuel (like wood). Eliminating just one is enough to extinguish a flame.

My approach to crisis management is often a plan that reduces heat (taking the high road), eliminates oxygen (smother the issue with facts) and removes fuel (avoiding adding to the problem).

Bullying victims might be tempted to react in haste, countering with their own attacks, which only add heat, oxygen and fuel to the fire.

As tempting as it might be to counter-punch, the smart approach is almost always one that is measured and thoughtful, aiming to eliminate at least one ingredient in the fire triangle.

In my experience, most young people are more than receptive to practical help from adults.

Perhaps some kids avoid disclosing bullying incidents because they do not believe their parents can help, as opposed to the common view that their silence is caused by shame or embarrassment.

Parents should develop some of the skills needed to help their child manage a cyberbullying incident and locate additional resources that they can refer to in real-time.

When ready, inform your children that you know how to assist them if a situation arises -- be confident in your approach.

A good first step is become proficient in the most common social media platforms, Facebook and Twitter -- they are here to stay -- deal with it.

Create your own accounts if you do not have them already; do more than dabble, really understand the features and how the websites work.

Tip: Make sure your child understands that you are doing this for yourself, not just because you want to monitor his activities -- develop your own network.

Once you are conversant in tweeting and status updating, add Vine, Snapchat and Instagram to your repertoire.

If your daughter comes to you asking for help, she is looking for a plan, even if she is not asking for one specifically-- practical guidance is in order.

Your instinct might be to immediately offer emotional support, which can also be important. But one of the best things you can do to help manage victims' anxiety is to work with them on a step-by-step response to the situation.

The 5-point plan below is a sample of what you might develop with your child, keeping in mind that every situation is different:

1. Capture screen shots of all of the bullying attacks so that you have a record of them for reporting purposes.

2. Avoid the urge to publicly respond to attacks -- at least not yet (see fire triangle).

3. Work together on how to confront the bully; a well-written email is usually a good start.

4. Develop talking points and approaches your child can use to manage likely scenarios such as seeing the bully between classes. What will your daughter say? How will she react?

5. Monitor the situation and be prepared to escalate the response if needed.

Whatever the plan of action is, your child will take comfort in knowing that one exists. The more confident you are in your ability to help manage the situation, the more the young person will be reassured and willing to continue working with you.

More than anything, stay calm -- under control -- at all times.

You cannot expect your child to manage the situation well if you are in panic mode -- be an example.

"That's it, no more Facebook or Tweetering(!)" are not effective responses, unless you want to see that your kid ostracized at school and ensure that she never comes to you again for help.

Finally, I have a lot of friends in the mental health field -- real pros. In no way am I suggesting that their role is not vital, in many cases it is.

It is simply my view that a young person is more likely to come to a parent for help if he knows that his parent can actually be of assistance. And often times the help kids seek is practical in nature, that is managing the situation, more than healing the wounds -- he may not be at that point yet.

There are many resources online, I won't list them all here but one to check out is stopbullying.gov. Feel free to tweet @strategydc if you would like a few additional pointers; I am committed to helping parents and young people manage these situations effectively.

The devastating impact bullying can have on young people is well chronicled. Unfortunately incidents are on the rise and the severity of these cases increases with the proliferation of online platforms.

Some adults in the '60s and '70s hoped rock and roll would die. Today there are parents with a similar view on social media.

Just like rock the digital world is here to stay.

My advice: be a practical resource to your kids, their life might depend on it.

This post has been modified since its original publication.