Cyber-bullying has been getting a lot of coverage in the press lately, but so much of it seems to focus on the extreme, sensational cases, and not the more common cases that occur every day, in most schools. While the extreme cases often end up with the most tragic consequences, there are countless more that go unreported and have significant long-term consequences.
Modern-day bullies equipped with technology
When I ask parents to tell me what comes to mind when I say the word "bully," most descriptions are variants of the stereotypical oversized, unkempt hoodlums who cut class, smoked in the bathroom, and beat up honor students for their lunch money. Oh, the good old days! Modern-day cyber-bullies are not just the same old miscreants equipped with a laptop and a smart phone. They come in many forms, as do their misdeeds.
So what is cyber-bullying?
The best definition: Cyber-bullying is a form of harassment in which the "bully" uses any form of mobile or Internet-based communication to abuse the "bullied," perhaps anonymously, but almost never face-to-face.
Here is just a short list of some cyber-bullying tactics:
- Posting obscene or offensive comments on a victim's social networking profile.
- Sending mean or threatening text messages.
- Editing digital photographs of a victim (in a hurtful manner) and sharing online.
- Creating an anonymous blog or hate site where a group of teens then gang up and disparage the victim.
- Posing as someone else, gaining the victim's trust, then publicly manipulating and humiliating the victim.
Cyber-bullying is a beast
This is not just a big kid picking on little kid, this is mass media at the disposal of any mean-spirited kid. What also makes cyber-bullying more insidious and more difficult to define, isolate and defend against is that it:
- Can be done anonymously by anyone.
- Follows victims wherever they go – on their phones, in the classroom, at the library, in their bedrooms.
- Can spread like wildfire throughout school, town and can also attract instigators from all over the web.
- Can be very difficult to stop.
- Can lead to serious, long-term psychological harm.
Cyber-bullying destroys self-esteem
In a study involving victims of cyber-bullying, 31 percent of students victimized reported being very or extremely upset, 19 percent were very or extremely afraid and 18 percent were very or extremely embarrassed by online harassment. The study also found that this type of abuse could have grievous long-term effects on a victim's self-esteem, emotional well-being and potentially harm their prospects for success in all other aspects of their lives.
Do's and Don'ts to stop cyber-bullying
- Do communicate. Talk openly with your kids and let them know you are there for them.
- Don't limit online access. Turning off the computer and limiting online access will do little or nothing to stop a problem that has already started.
- Do regular searches on your child's name. Set up a Google Alert to notify you if your child's name is mentioned publicly online.
- Don't fight fire with fire. One of the worst things you can do is take to the web and fight back, as that will likely create a bigger backlash against your child.
- Do contact authorities. Collect the facts and contact online resources, school officials and local law enforcement (depending on the severity) who can help with your problem.
As scary and unmanageable as the problem might seem, many people, myself included, are dedicated to helping parents and teens harness the power of the Internet to do good.
More ways to protect kids online