How Much Do You Know About Cyberbullying?
True or False:
1. Victims of cyberbullying are at an increased risk for traditional bullying victimization, substance use and school problems.
2. Victims of cyberbullying suffer from anger, frustration and sadness.
3. Most victims of cyberbullying tell an adult (parent or teacher) about their experience.
4. Victims report that they are primarily cyberbullied by strangers.
If you answered “true” for the first two statements and “false” for the last two, you are correct. (www.cyberbullying.us)
Parents-Be Aware & Be Productive
Perhaps the most widely known incident of cyberbullying is the Megan Meier case, a then 13-year-old from Missouri who became online friends with a person she thought was a new boy in town. In reality, the “friend” was a group of young people and adults, who plotted to humiliate Megan because of a friendship with another girl that ended on a sour note. When Megan found out the truth, she became distraught and later committed suicide.
What Exactly is Cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying is defined as using the computer or other electronic devices to intimidate, threaten or humiliate another individual. It most commonly takes place on the Internet among students from a given school or neighborhood.
The Cyberbullying Research Center recently collected data from more than 6,000 youths regarding their personal cyberbullying experiences. The data showed that:
• An astounding 33 percent of youth have been victimized by cyberbullying.
• Among this group, being ignored and disrespected were the most common forms of cyberbullying.
• More than half of the participants felt that cyberbullying was as bad or worse than bullying in real life.
• Cyberbullying occurs most often in chat rooms (56 percent).
• 49 percent of kids are victimized via instant messaging and 28 percent via e-mail.
• 34 percent of youth who are bullied feel frustrated; 30 percent feel angry and 22 percent feel sad.
• 41 percent of victims did not tell anyone in their off-screen lives about their abuse, but 38 percent did tell an online friend.
• 17 percent admitted to bullying another individual online.
• Of the offenders interviewed, most considered it fun or considered it a way to strengthen their victims.
Drs. Justin Patchin and Sameer Hinduja are co-directors of the Cyberbullying Research Center. Their extensive research work in this area indicates that the impact of cyberbullying can be devastating; as many as five percent of the youth they interviewed claimed to be scared for their own safety.
Where Does Cyberbullying Take Place?
Think about all of the different ways your child is connected to technology – cell phones, e-mails, instant messaging, Web sites, blogs, text messages and any other method your child uses to communicate through electronics. All of these present a potential risk for cyberbullying.
What a Parent Needs to Know
Cyber victimization has been shown to cause poor grades, emotional spirals, poor self-esteem, repeated school absences, depression and in some cases suicide. The researchers note that these outcomes are similar to the outcomes of real-life bullying, except that with cyberbullying there is often no escape. Young people used to be able to avoid the “bully” once school was out. The Internet, cell phones and other technology now make it almost impossible to escape. Since few parents closely monitor their child’s technology usage, it is far easier for bullies to get away with bullying online than in person.
What Can Parents Do?
Establish that all rules for interacting appropriately with people in real life apply on the Internet. Talk about acceptable Internet behavior and address what can happen when technology is misused. Specifically discuss cyberbullying and explain what it is and why it is unacceptable to be a bully or to be bullied.
Talk with your teen about the nature of “real” friendships. An online experience is a way to deepen a friendship, but it shouldn’t be the only form a friendship takes. Talk about what it means to treat others with respect, even if you don’t like them or agree with their behavior. Discuss why face-to face communication is important. It is often easy to be mean or disrespectful when you don’t have to see a person’s reaction.
Encourage your child to talk with you any time they believe they are being bullied or they know someone who is being bullied. Remind them that it is your job as their parent to help them through difficult situations.
Model appropriate uses of technology. Don’t communicate in an e-mail what needs to be said face to face. Refrain from harassing or joking about others online.
Write a technology contract that includes all forms of technology used in your home. Discuss expectations and be specific about what is appropriate and what is not – give examples. Ask each member of the family to sign the contract and place it on the refrigerator or next to the computer as a reminder of your family’s standards.
What If Your Child is a Victim of Cyberbullying?
Intervening requires a thoughtful approach.Your job is to make sure your child feels safe and to empower him or her with tools to manage the situation on their end while you do your part as the parent. Putting together an action plan with your child so that he/she feels “in the know” and comfortable with what is going to happen is very important.
Make sure you get as much information as possible from your child. Depending on the situation, you may need to talk with the school guidance counselor or the parent(s) of others involved. If your child is the bully, determine appropriate consequences and stick to them. If your child is the victim, you can’t control what happens to the bully, but you can help your child come up with a plan for how to manage through their feelings.
Cyberbullying can be a serious threat to the well-being of your child. The best plan of attack is to be proactive. Being ignorant about technology in this day and age will not work. Educate yourself as well as your children. As the saying goes, information is power.
Julie Baumgardner is the executive director of First Things First, a research and advocacy organization dedicated to strengthening families through education, collaboration and mobilization. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.