Cyberbullying: A Growing Online Safety Problem for Today’s Children, Tweens and Teens!
The Devastating Impact of Cyberbullying
Computer and mobile technology helps us stay connected with one another and to communicate with friends and family – all positives. Unfortunately, technology has also expanded bullying–once confined to the playground–to the online world.
What is Cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying is the use of computer devices to spread rumors, post humiliating, embarrassing photo-shopped photos. send mean spirited messages, and make threats toward their victims – often anonymously. Cyberbullying can begin as soon as children start using the internet for social networking.
Consider these Stats:
- > than 40% of kids have experienced some sort of cyberbullying.
- 29% of young people have had rumors spread about them online or via text.
- 17% of young people have been threatened or manipulated online or via text.
Cyberbullies are Creative
Cyberbullies employ many creative ways to bully their victims, most commonly by forwarding a message that the victim thought was private, by spreading false or vicious rumors or lies, sending an embarrassing, photo-shopped pictured for everyone to see, creating false social networking profiles, or posting a horrifically mean or threatening comments on Facebook. Passwords may be stolen and kids locked out of their own accounts. Creativity seems to be limitless when it comes to cyberbullying. Sadly, the outcome of cyberbullying can be devastating, long-lasting and even deadly. Kids have committed suicide because of cyberbullying. Horrifically, cyberbullying sometimes continues even after a suicide, as it did recently with 12 year old Rebecca Sedwick.
How is cyberbullying Different from Playground Bullying?
- It’s anonymous and unwitnessed
- There is no escape; the online world is open for viewing 24/7
- Cyberbullies are disinhibited which means lacking inhibition in cyberspace
- Cruelty can be easily replicated
- There is a “piling on” effect or joining in of others in cyberbullying
- Victim can’t defend him or herself
- Cyberbullying is often unreported
The cyberbully hides behind a computer screen to attack their victim. It’s often anonymous. Sites like Formspring, 4chan and others are havens for cyberbullies where it’s hard to track the cyberbully down and put a face and name to their horrific acts. The victim doesn’t know who is perpetrating the online attack, and can’t defend him/herself. Cyberbullying can be 24/7:The incident of bullying on the playground remained on the playground, but now, with the ubiquitous nature of computer technology, kids are online 24/7. School day relationships are no longer 9am-3p.m, they extend into each child’s home long into the night. There is no escape.
The cyberbully’s lack of restraint, empathy, conscience, and regard for acceptable social norms of behavior result in “disinhibition”. Hiding behind a computer screen, with the decreased risk of getting caught emboldens the cyberbully. A cyberbully would likely not say the same cruel remarks to someone’s face, but online they feel free to hurt someone at will because cyberbullying is an act of cowardice. There is often an emotional detachment when interacting online that reduces empathy for their victim. By not seeing a victim’s face and their reaction to an attack, it is easy for the cyberbully to forget there is a person with feelings at the other end. This detachment can also result in the cyberbully escalating their attack.
Replication is the ability for photos and videos to go viral by copying and distributing them across the internet to a large number of people which results in a “loss of control” for the victim. There is no way to control and stop a rumor once it starts spreading across the internet, from person to person, school to school, via You Tube Video or other websites, potentially from one corner of the world to another. The victim has no way to defend him/herself, and feels powerless, helpless and alone. The victim’s reputation may be damaged, and friendships destroyed, which are all goals of the cyberbully.
In cyberspace cyberbullies often engage other kids to participate and “pile-on” the victim, partly because they like having an audience. According to research by Amanda Lenhart of PEW, 67% of teens say other teens join in on the harassment online. Bystanders can help instigate, engage in and encourage the cyberbully, but they can also stop it by stepping in.
Cyberbullying is usually unreported. Only 10% of victims tell an adult/parent/teacher that it’s happening.” Kids are afraid to tell an adult because they are afraid their computer privileges will be removed, so it’s very important that a parent not over react when told about cyberbullying. Kids are also afraid to report also because they fear making the cyberbullying worse.
Where It Occurs:
There are many online vehicles for a bully to engage their victim. Social networking sites are the most common place for cyberbullying, followed by chat rooms and mobile phones. According to a recent Ipsos survey, 60% of kids say harassment occurs through social networking sites like Facebook while (42%) is via cellular telephone or other mobile device and (40%) via online chat room.
The Effects of Cyberbullying:
The viral nature of the internet makes cyberbullying feel worse for victims than “playground bullying,” and may result in psycho-social problems. In addition to victims feeling angry, frustrated and sad, according to the Journal of School Violence, victims also feel dehumanized and isolated.
Once cyberbullying occurs, (unless it’s nipped in the bud) a domino effect is created. Let’s say a child is cyberbullied by a false rumor that has been spread online. Friends of the victim may believe the rumor and withdraw their friendship affecting the victim’s social life. The victim withdraws from peers, and possibly family. The child doesn’t tell a parent because they are embarrassed or afraid of the consequences. As a result of the low self esteem, the child may suffer academically skipping class or school, not participating or concentrating in class, which often results in lower grades. Victims report not feeling safe in school and not wanting to go to school. Physically they may complain about headaches and recurrent stomach pain and difficulty sleeping. Aside from the emotional, concentration and behavior issues reported, victims also reported frequent headaches, recurrent stomach pain, and difficulty sleeping.
What Kids Can Do:
If you know the cyberbully, you may try to confront them and tell them to stop. One victim’s confrontational method is to “Kill them with kindness. That is, when she would see one of her tormentors approach, she would compliment her on her hair or outfit. It’ll freak them out, she said, because I bring them up before they can bring me down” – If this doesn’t work, then block them. Don’t respond any further as this will empower the cyberbully.
- Tell your friends what the cyberbully is doing. They may tell this kid to stop.
- Do not reply or respond to an anonymous cyberbully, this empowers the cyberbully.
- Ask for help from a trusted adult like a parent or school counselor.
- Save and Copy the cyberbullying incident and the website where it occurred, (ScreenRetriever Replay is excellent for this) http://www.screenretriever.com/ even if it’s anonymous on websites such as Formspring. If possible get email addresses or screen names.
- Behave online using the same ‘code of conduct’ that is expected offline. Remember there is a person at the other end of each post. Stop and think before you hit the send button.
- Remember that cyberbullying is not your fault!
What Parents Can Do:
Parents play the most influential role in a child’s life. So even when you think they’re not listening, they are. Parents have a critical role in recognizing electronic aggression and good communication is essential when it comes to cyberbullying. Have “the talk” about cyberbullying with your child throughout their growing years – that is age appropriate. What you say to your 2nd or 3rd grader will be different than what you say to your teen. Let your kids know that they may come to you anytime that there is a problem and that you are there for them, that they will not get into trouble and that you will be supportive. Unfortunately, given the stats, it is likely that your child will experience some negative online behavior. Think ahead so that you have a plan of action should cyberbullying occur. Lay the ground work for a trusting relationship and good communication early!
1. Teach your child about appropriate online behavior at a young age. Monitor your child’s online behavior to make sure they are complying with your rules and conducting themselves appropriately. Teach your child to stop and think before they hit the send button.
2. Develop a plan to empower your child. Talk to your child about what to do if cyberbullying should occur.
3. Ask your child about cyberbullying and ask if they are saying anything mean online. Your child could be a cyberbully and not just a victim. Monitor online activity occasionally to watch for signs of cyberbullying.
4. Watch for a change in your child’s behavior. Do they seem more withdrawn? Have their friendships changed?
- Are they spending more time alone or are they hanging out with different kids?
- Watch for a change in your child’s grades.
- Is your child having difficulty sleeping?
- Has their appetite diminished?
- Are their signs of depression?
- Are they complaining of physical ailments?
If your child is a victim of a cyberbully, then what?
1. If your child confides in you about being cyberbullied, believe them and take it seriously. Don’t make light of it, say “toughen up”, “let it roll off your back”, or use the old quote, “sticks and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Kids experience very real emotional pain.
2. Talk to your child and let them know that they are not to blame.
3. Don’t over react by taking computer privileges away.
4. Ask the child if they’d like your help before just jumping in. Try to work together with your child.
5. Ask your child what they think should be done. Tell your child that nipping the problem in the bud could stop the cyberbullying before it gets worse. This may mean going to the parents of the cyberbully, school authorities or the police especially if your child is threatened or you can’t tell who is doing the cyberbullying. Take all of the saved and copied exchanges, screen names, email addresses with you.
6. Only 10% of kids confide in their parents about being cyberbullied. Parents can prevent a cyberbullying problem from spiraling out of control by proactively monitoring online computer and cellphone/smartphone activity and behavior. Parents need to actively participate in their child’s online experience and be aware of what’s going on.
Most important of all – Tell your child how much you love them and how wonderful they are; they don’t deserve this but they will live through it and become stronger and will be able to help others someday.