We’ve recently talked about text bombing and sexting, with the overlying arc being cyberbullying. It is defined as pervasive, relational aggression, also known as “covert aggression.” It is carried out via the use of electronic technology, such as cell phones, computers, and tablets by means of text messages, social media sites, and online “chatting.” For example, someone may create an online rumor by posting an embarrassing, or inflammatory image or story on social media or in an email. Because it’s online, it has the capacity to spread much faster and have a longer reach. Cyberbullying intimidates its victims with its intent to control, isolate, shame, and instill fear.
Some forms of cyberbullying are:
1. A person pretends to be someone else and chats or messages someone online with the intent to trick, shame, or embarrass someone else.
2. Extremely sensitive or personal information is posted and shared online.
3. Lies and gossip are maliciously posted or shared online.
4. Digitally manipulated, often pornographic images are posted or distributed without consent.
5. Online threats. These can be vague or specific.
6. Exclusion, or intensionally excluding someone from an inner or online group or site
Why is cyberbullying different?
1. There is no “off” button: this type of bullying can happen 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The aggressor can reach its target when they are alone, late at night, and early in the morning.
2. Images and/or messages can be posted anonymously to a wide audience, and they can be difficult to trace.
What can you do?
1. Monitor your child’s web activity. Take care to really pay attention to what sites they are using and how “connected” they are. Increase your vigilance if you notice your child is showing signs of depression, becomes withdrawn, or suffers from low self-esteem.
2. Teach your kids to avoid environments rife with cyberbulling: Facebook, chat rooms, Snap Chat are some of the many sites out there that are breeding grounds for this behavior.
3. You decide what places are unsafe for your child, taking age, maturity, and other factors into consideration.
4. Arm yourself with information. Become well-versed in the ins and outs of social media sites. Get tech savvy, folks and embrace your inner geek!
5. Express the importance of keeping personal information personal and off of the Internet.
Unfortunately, statistics are showing an increase in cyberbulling not a decrease:
1. 58% of kids admit someone has said mean or hurtful things to them online. More than 4 out of 10 say it has happened more than once.
2. 53% of kids admit having said something mean or hurtful to another person online. More than 1 in 3 have done it more than once.
3. 58% of kids have not told their parents or an adult about something mean or hurtful that happened to them online.
4. 40% of kids have had their password(s) stolen and changed by a bully.
5. Cyberbullying victims are eight times more likely to report carrying a weapon to school in the last 30 days than non-bullied teens.
6. Cyberbullying has led to at least four documented cases of teen suicide in the United States.
7. Only 15% of parents polled knew what cyberbullying was.
Cyberbullying isn’t going away right now; it’s an unfortunate byproduct of the increase and variability in technological tools and means of communication. We as parents and teachers need to arm ourselves with information and learn to make better, safer choices. Frankly, most kids don’t need smart phones, but they have them and as a result, they have easy access to a multitude of apps that are designed for online social activity. Some are even designed to promote anonymity or to delete messages as soon as you’ve sent them. This is a good opportunity to have stronger, more defined boundaries and some dedicated time set aside that is technology free.
1. Have a no-tech zone around meal times.
2. Go on an outdoor adventure with your family that is technology free.
3. Embrace the value of direct communication. For example, call someone instead of texting.
Technology was designed to make things more efficient and interactive. It has the capacity to reach into spaces we never thought possible. Still, we must harness its dark side for the sake of safety and well-being.