CYBERBULLYING… Have you heard of it? If not, you will… because cyberbullying is becoming increasingly more common among tweens and teens using the Internet today. While today’s parents may worry about the online sexual predator trying to lure children, many parents don’t have a clue about this fast growing and dangerous phenomenon confronting our kids as they I.M., text, email, blog, etc.
What is it?
The basic definition of cyberbullying: Using the computer, Internet, cell phones or other electronic devices for the purpose of harassing, threatening, embarrassing, or otherwise taunting another person. Cyberbullying can be done through emails, text messaging, postings through blogs or chatrooms, social networking sites, or by sending pictures or images online with the intention of physically or emotionally hurting another person.
Why is it dangerous?
For one thing, it preys on children mentally and physically. Imagine being a 13 year old girl whose yearbook picture has been altered in some way, perhaps your face superimposed on a different body, and then texted to everyone in school. Maybe with a threatening or humiliating caption. Maybe even with your home address and phone number. How about a 12 year old boy… who is bombarded daily with texts and emails calling him names, making fun of his weight or other physical features, and being taunted with threats of physical violence: “you’re gonna get your _____ kicked tomorrow.” These are just two real-life examples of cyberbullying that our children are facing today.
If you were one of those kids, what might you do? Run away, sink into depression, physically hurt yourself, or retaliate against your tormentors – possibly with a weapon?
A recent survey of 1,500 students, grades 4 through 8, conducted by I-Safe America (www.i-safe.org) found that:
43% of those interviewed were victims of some form of cyberbullying,
35% had been threatened and
58% of those victims did not tell a parent or other adult.
*Statistically, girls were more likely to be targets of cyberbullying than boys, yet boys are quick to spread the bullying messages.
Why do kids do this?
Several reasons: Sometimes it’s a form of entertainment because they’re bored or think it’s funny. Some are looking for a sense of power or stature among their peers. Others are motivated by anger, jealousy, or revenge about a typical kid-issue like competition over the attention or affection of some “popular boy or girl” at school. Many kids simply do not understand that even by forwarding or spreading those hurtful messages, they are, in fact, taking part in cyberbullying. Even kids who might never engage in bullying behavior in the “real world” are participating either by instigating or passing along messages as part of the game.
Whatever the reason, cyberbullying is hurtful, damaging, and can have serious consequences for everyone involved. That’s something our kids need to be taught.
Is it illegal?
In some instances, yes. Certain threats of physical harm or sexual images are definitely illegal and law enforcement can and will take action, even if the perpetrator is a minor.
Many states, including California, have recently passed Cyberbullying laws in response to the growing problem. In fact, the new California law allows schools to suspend or expel students caught cyberbullying if it creates a hostile, fearful environment in which the victim is afraid to attend school. In many cases, the bully can actually be charged with a misdemeanor. The sad truth is that this is happening in schools across America, sometimes with tragic results. Parents and educators are just now beginning to recognize the seriousness of the problem, and are reaching out to understand how this happens and more importantly, how to stop it.
What Can Parents Do?
You can’t protect your child if you don’t see or understand the problem. Parents need to be the ones that kids go to when something is troubling them, yet often they’re the last to know. Why? Because kids fear that you’ll overreact or that they’ll get in trouble.
Talk specifically with your child about online issues. Let them know they can come to you with anything that is upsetting, inappropriate or threatening in any way and that you’ll help them.
Learn how various social networking sites work. Get familiar with Facebook, MySpace, Twitter. Have your child show you these sites, especially if they have profile pages
“Google” your child’s name periodically to see if anything inappropriate comes up. This is how one family learned there was dangerous information about their child online, which no one knew about.
Don’t threaten to take away their computer, I-Phone, etc. This only forces kids to go “underground” and keep things secret.
If your child is targeted, don’t overreact or blame them for being the victim. Be supportive and understanding. Find out how long it’s been going on and promise you’ll work together to find a solution.
Don’t under-react by telling them to “shrug it off”, or just deal with it. The emotional pain of cyberbullying is very real and can have long-lasting effects. Don’t tease them about it or respond with a “kids will be kids” attitude.
Talk to Your School’s Guidance Counselor
Talk to your school’s guidance counselor so they can keep an eye out for bullying during school hours.
Get Law Enforcement Involved
If there are threats of physical violence or the bullying continues to escalate, get law enforcement involved immediately.
DO NOT DELETE
Tell your child not to respond to any threats or bullying comments online. However, DO NOT DELETE the message(s). Instead, print out in its entirety including the email address or online screen name of the originator. Be sure to print out the “headers” in their entirety. You will need this to prove exactly what is happening or to track down an anonymous, threatening post.
If You Learn Your Child IS the Bully
If you learn your child IS the bully, immediately get involved. Let them know that they may face real consequences including possible legal charges. Many kids just don’t know how serious the issue is when they begin this behavior.
What Can Kids Do?
No matter how mad you may be at someone or how much you dislike them, do not try to “get back” at them by posting hurtful, threatening, or inappropriate messages online. Eventually you’ll end up paying the consequences. Don’t forward any bullying or inappropriate messages about others that someone sends to you.
Even if you didn’t start it, those mass emails that say “tell all your friends, or spread the news…” can get YOU into trouble. If you are the victim of a cyberbully, don’t reply or respond to the cyberbully’s message. Instead: STOP/BLOCK (that person from further online contact) and TELL. Save/print up the evidence, and show it to your parents immediately. Talk to an adult as soon as you feel scared or threatened. (a parent, school counselor, etc.).
You can get help.
What Can Schools and School Districts Do?
Adopt a zero tolerance policy for any and all bullying – online or in person. Make it clear that any intimidation, harassment, or threatening behavior will be dealt with swiftly and seriously. School districts should have anti-bullying policies in place. Parents and students should be aware of these policies at the start of the school year. Engage students, parents and teachers in discussions about bullying prevention. Have your Student Council or student panels address the issue to their peers in schoolwide assemblies, at PTA meetings, or other schoolwide events. Get everyone involved!!
About the Author
Pattie Fitzgerald is the founder of Safely Ever After, Inc. and addresses the issues of child safety in the “real world” and on the Internet safety with seminars, workshops and keynote speeches throughout the United States. For more information, please visit: www.safelyeverafter.com