Information On Cyberbullying
Cyberbullying is making headlines on television and the Internet due to the dangers it poses to many school age children. What might not be clear to many is what cyberbullying actually is.
According to Dr. Sameer Hinduja & Dr. Justin Patchin at the Cyberbullying Research Center, cyberbullying is "willful and repeated harm inflicted through the use of computers, cell phones, and other electronic devices."
Stopbullying.gov expands this definition to include social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, as well as personal blogs and other communication tools.
The repeated harm being referred to is defined as harassment, threats, humiliation and other generally negative and repeated attacks.
Many parents might wonder why cyberbullying is making such an uproar when bullies have been around as long as children have played together. It is because cyberbullies can attack a child at any time, from anywhere. Leaving the schoolyard for home is no longer enough to get away from a bully as modern technology has offered so many new ways for bullies to reach an intended victim. And while a schoolyard attack can be very traumatic, it is over relatively quickly. A blog post with a picture of the victim, or a comment on a webpage will remain a long time, possibly years.
It is also important to note that studies have shown that kids who are being harassed by a cyberbully are often being bullied in person as well.
It has also become increasingly difficult to identify the bully in question. The Internet provides a great deal of anonymity for bullies to hide behind making it difficult to identify an attacker. This anonymity, real or perceived, also tends to embolden cyberbullies into even greater levels of harassment than they might normally engage in.
Not knowing who the attacker is can increase the level of stress in a victim.
Cyberbullying Statistics - Is It A Common Occurrence?
According to the 2011 U.S. Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Nationwide Report over a 12 month period 16.2% of students surveyed between grades 9 through 12 had been the victim of a cyberbully through one of the following:
- Chat Rooms
- Instant Messaging
This study took place September 2010 through December 2011 and included 43 states and 21 large urban school districts. Of this group, females were 22.1% more likely to be bullied than males. In the 30 days before the survey began 5.9% of students had missed at least one day because they felt they would not be safe at school. Of this group the highest percentage was among Hispanic females at 9.6%.
While it is possible to prevent access to a cell phone, children actually need a computer. Even a computer with the latest and greatest content blocking software may miss something, and the children themselves are going to want to participate in online social networking in some form.
Social sites can be fun learning experiences where kids can get together and help each other with schoolwork or simply socialize online. These sites however are also a prime location for a cyberbully to attack. Careful monitoring of social site activity is always a good idea.
For additional statistics, see:
The Effects Of Being Cyberbullied
While it may not be possible to make a child 100% safe from cyberbullying it is possible to identify the signs that someone is being harassed in this way.
According to Stopbullying.gov, kids being harassed by a cyberbully are more likely to:
- Have an increase in health issues
- Show an unwillingness to attend school
- Lose self esteem
- Experience bullying in person
- Have a sudden drop in grades
- Skip school
- No longer show interest in computers or other technology
- Begin smoking and/or using alcohol and drugs
- Experience unexplained weight loss or gain
Many children will experience suicidal thoughts, and in more extreme cases, suicide attempts.
Parents must be vigilant when it comes to the behaviors outlined above because in many cases a child won't come forward with a problem like this even if familial relationships are healthy and communication is open and frequent. More often than not it is the parent that must initiate the conversation and dig for information.
How Kids Can Avoid Cyberbullying
The first and most important thing an adult can do is set Internet ground rules from the very beginning. Limiting the amount of time a child is on the Internet as well as being very clear what is acceptable and what isn't is extremely important.
Being aware of where a child is going on the Internet as well as whom they are speaking with is clearly also very important. This should be looked at no differently than knowing where a child is afterschool or where they are walking too.
There are many tools that can help monitor a child's online activity, including:
- uknowkids.com - This service organizes a child's social media interactions from Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, and Instagram all into one place making them much easier to monitor.
- NetNanny - Parental controls allow content filtering to better limit where children go on the Internet and email reports are sent on what is blocked as well as sites visited. Online chat is monitored as well.
This software can help parents monitor their children, but there is no substitute for direct involvement. It can often be helpful to make sure kids understand that their actions are being observed as opposed to secretly monitoring them.
The knowledge that their web history will be reviewed can many times avoid problems before they happen. Make it clear that the reason for online monitoring is not due to a lack of trust in them, but to protect your kids online from such things as cyberbullying and adult-oriented content that they are not ready for yet.
Other actions to take are:
- Friend your children on Facebook - This will update parents on Facebook activity
- Follow them on Twitter - See what they are saying to their friends
- Maintain a list of your child's passwords - This is always a good idea as kids tend to forget their passwords, but obviously it also allows parents easy access to accounts.
It is also very important to have a conversation with children to prevent bullying before it happens. Explain what it is and where it might occur. Make sure the child knows to report cyberbullying to parents as quickly as possible if they or someone they know encounters it. Also make sure kids know how to not be a cyberbully on accident.
Teasing on the playground is never a positive thing, but teasing on the Internet can get out of control very fast and turn into something much bigger than anyone intended. If other kids get involved a little teasing can become cyberbullying very fast.
How To Handle A Cyberbully
If a child is currently being harassed by a cyberbully:
- Record all evidence of cyberbullying with dates, times, and descriptions of the incidents. Take screenshots and print messages.
- Use the evidence to report the cyberbully to cell phone and Internet service providers.
- Report the abuse any social media sites being used. This behavior is a violation of the terms and conditions of these services.
- Learn how to block users. Social media sites will allow users to block accounts and cell phones can block phone numbers.
- Report the cyberbully to their school
Some states have laws that protect students from off-campus attacks that lead to a hostile environment in school. Be sure to speak with your child's school on their policies.
In some cases a cyberbully escalates behavior beyond these steps. Threats of violence, stalking, sending explicit messages or photos, and taking a photo of a child in a private location are all reasons to alert the police immediately. In many states these types of behaviors are crimes, and if in doubt speak with law enforcement in your area for guidance on the issue. Better to report the problem and be wrong than too not report a potentially dangerous situation.
The most extreme cases of this crime, the ones that lead to children harming themselves or even committing suicide, are often covered in our national news. This may lead viewers to believe that these are isolated incidents of cyberbullying since this problem may not appear widespread, but that is simply not true.
It is important that we talk about this problem, not only with our children but with others in our community. Through education we can prepare friends and family for possible future encounters with cyberbullying, as well as work toward avoiding it altogether.
More Information On Cyberbullying
I hope this helps you understand more about cyberbullying and the danger it poses to children in America today. Here are more sites on this important topic:
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