Bullying has been around forever, but when you add e-mail, blogs, instant messaging, mobile phones and other electronic methods, bullying takes on an entirely new dimension. Cyberbullying, online harassment, and cyber stalking are all terms for ways in which those who wish to hurt others, for whatever reason, use online tools to do so.
Cyberbullies can deliver an onslaught of accusations and threats through instant and text messages, e-mail, or cell phones at any time of the day or night. Bullies can steal and alter photos in damaging ways or add derogatory comments; they can then post them on social networking sites (such as MySpace) or send them to the victim's friends and family. Sometimes, pretending to be the victim, they create fake blogs to create trouble with the victim's friends or post embarrassing videos. Because cyberbullies can remain anonymous, they don't have to be bigger or stronger to harass others.
Though the focus in the press is on cyberbullying among children and teens, cyberbullying affects people of all ages. Cyberbullying of co-workers, managers, seniors, and exes are unfortunately common problems.
The full scope of cyberbullying is difficult to measure because of under-reporting. However, we do know that nearly one in six U.S. children grades six to ten (that’s 3.2 million students) are victims of online bullying every year.
What to do if you or your child is cyberbullied
Often young victims of bullying are told they should "just ignore it" or "toughen up." Instead of dismissing them, they need your support when they speak up about online abuse.
Make sure your child understands that it is a myth that "weaklings tattle." In reality, those who tell are the ones who are not willing to be bullied. Speaking out and getting help are positive declarations that they deserve to be treated better.
Cyberbullying directly affects the emotional well-being of both victims and bullies. Every effort should be made to find the bully to hold them accountable for their actions and to help them change their behavior.
Five safety tips to avoid or deal with online bullying
Follow these steps to avoid or cope with cyberbullying:
- Keep personal information (address, phone number, etc.), feelings, or personal photos private so a bully can’t abuse them.
- Use technology tools to block anyone whose behavior is inappropriate or threatening in any way.
- Do not answer phone calls or read messages, e-mail, or comments from cyberbullies, but do set them aside in case they are needed by authorities as evidence or to take action. Instruct your kids to do the same.
- Check in with your children periodically to ask whether they are being bullied on the computer, their cell phones or through online games. Encourage your children to report bullying to you and take action on their behalf. Don’t dismiss their problems or blame them for not being tough enough.
- Make sure your children know why they should never bully others, and make it clear what the consequences will be if they do. Some parents of bullies tend to minimize or dismiss the behavior of their child. They consider such behavior as being "just a phase," or say "kids will be kids." Not only does this point of view utterly disregard the tremendous damage done to victims, it also fails to recognize the very dangerous path bullies themselves walk. Those who bully in school face higher rates of issues with alcoholism, imprisonment, failed relationships, and failure at work.