The schoolyard antics of the past are easy to visualize: larger kids picking on smaller ones, the tough giving the weak a hard time, the popular jock demeaning the anti-social geek. However, the most severe cases of bullying in the 21st century occur not at school but in your homes. Welcome to the world of Cyberbullying.
Although the concept of bullying is an age-old childhood concern, the new wave of bullying takes it to another level on the internet and is becoming a significant issue for children and teenagers. “Cyberbullying involves technology-based taunting of children. It can range from a few nasty text messages, to a deluge of ugly e-mails, to hacking children’s MySpace accounts and placing pornographic pictures on them. Kids can be cruel. And kids with technology can be cruel on a world-wide scale.” (www.redtape.com)
According to research conducted by the Pew Internet Project, upwards of 1/3 of children have been victims of cyberbullies. “As more and more young people join social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook, so they are opening themselves and their personal information up to more people” (news.bbc.co.uk), which leads to a greater risk of cyberbullies having access to information that can be used in attempts at victimization.
So, the question that arises is ‘Why has cyberbullying become such a threat to young people’? There are several theories, but one stands out with higher probability. Children feel “that the insulating nature of the web is distancing bullies from their actions”. ‘People think they are a million times stronger because they can hide behind their computer monitor,’ one teenage boy said in his response to why people bully online” (news.bbc.co.uk).
Other theories are that children are “motivated by anger, revenge or frustration. Sometimes they do it for entertainment or because they are bored and have too much time on their hands and too many tech toys available to them. Many do it for laughs or to get a reaction. Some do it by accident, and either send a message to the wrong recipient or didn’t think before they did something. The Power-hungry do it to torment others and for their ego. Revenge of the Nerd may start out defending themselves from traditional bullying only to find that they enjoy being the tough guy or gal. Mean girls do it to help bolster or remind people of their own social standing. And some think they are righting wrong and standing up for others” (www.stopcyberbullying.org).
It is important to note that cyberbullying “has to have a minor on both sides, or at least have been instigated by a minor against another minor. Once adults become involved, it is plain and simple cyber-harassment or cyberstalking. Adult cyber-harassment or cyberstalking is NEVER called cyberbullying” (www.stopcyberbullying.org).
Now that adults are becoming more aware of the dangers and concerns that children are facing, what can be done? There are several options that are listed below (www.schoolshooting.org):
- If your child is a victim of cyber bullying, don’t respond to it, or erase any messages or pictures as you may need them for evidence. If its happening through the school system like the library, contact the school administrators as they will have to intervene.
- If you know who the bully is and their address, send a written letter to their parents, avoid face to face contact if possible. You may want to keep a copy of the letter for evidence incase you go to the police.
- You may want to consider setting up a firewall and adjusting parental controls on the pc to limit any personal information going in cyberspace.
- If you tried everything in your power, its time to call the police. With evidence, they should be able to track them down quickly, and charge them if necessary.
- Take it seriously. You may be tempted to give the “stick and stones may break your bones, but words will never hurt you” lecture, but words and cyberattacks can wound a child easily and have a lasting effect. These attacks follow them into your otherwise safe home and wherever they go online. And when up to 700 million accomplices can be recruited to help target or humiliate your child, the risk of emotional pain is very real, and very serious.
With cyberbullying become more and more common, it is important to respond as quickly as possible if you suspect or discover it is happening. Children have committed suicide after having been cyberbullied, and in Japan one young girl killed another after a cyberbullying incident. It is not something to take lightly or assume it is just “kids being kids”.
Finally, the most important role parents can play in combatting the occurrences, severity and frequency of cyberbullying is to be involved and available. Often children do not talk to parents about being cyberbullied because parents over- or under-react. Trying to understand the world that your child lives in, especially the digital/electronic/technological worlds, is significant to connecting on an open and emotional level. The more real your child’s concerns and hurts are to you, the more likely it is that your child will confide in you about those things.
Get information and help at www.stopcyberbullying.org, www.wiredsafety.org, and www.schoolshooting.org.