Bullying was once an act limited to playgrounds or school hallways. The Internet has opened up a whole new world of socialization for young people through advancements in technology and social media. The increased use of the technology in both school and home has transformed bullying into a new kind of threat for children. It has given school “bullies” a new platform on which to intimidate and harass others. Cyber bullying is quickly becoming a challenging issue facing young people, parents and educators.
What is Cyber Bullying?
Cyber bullying is sending or posting harmful or cruel text or images using social media or other communication devices, including smart phones, tablets and computers.
Cyber bullying can include:
- Posting/Sending cruel, vicious or threatening content
- Creating Web sites or profiles that have stories, pictures and jokes ridiculing others.
- Posting pictures of other students/kids with derogatory phrases, questions attached to them or that have been photoshoppped
- Using someone else’s name or creating a fake account to post vicious, incriminating and embrassing content. Using technology to harass others.
- Posting inflammatory comments with the intent to upset others and provoke others into an emotional response.
Age and Gender
Cyber bullying is not limited to high school students. In many cases younger children, who have grown up with technology, have a greater knowledge and engage in online bullying more than students in older grades. There is often extensive bullying behavior in middle school-aged children.
A common assumption is that boys bully more than girls. Boys do engage in more physical bullying, but girls are often more active in cyber bullying.
Some of the ways kids bully other kids on the computer is by calling them names, saying or writing nasty things about them, threatening them, making them feel uncomfortable or scared or trying to make them do things they don’t want to do.
There are a lot of reasons why kids bully. They may see it as a way of being popular or making themselves look tough and in charge. Some bullies do it to get attention or to make other people afraid of them.
Ways younger students can be encouraged to handle online bullying:
- Ignore the bullying or tell them to stop.
- Kids should tell a parent, teacher or trusted adult if he/she is being bullied online. This isn’t “tattling.”
- If a child knows someone else who is being mean to other kids online, the child should tell them to stop and then tell a parent or teacher.
Pledge for younger students:
I will tell my mom, dad or trusted adult if someone is bothering me or calling me names while I am on the Internet; I will never be mean to anyone while I am on the computer. I won’t call them names or make fun of them; I will be a buddy to anyone who is being called names or made fun of on the computer; and I will not bully someone just because he/she has already been mean to me on the computer.
The middle school years can be some of the most difficult in a child’s life. They are caught somewhere between childhood and adolescence which often leads to insecurity and a feeling of self-change and emotion can lead to bullying and taking frustrations out on others. Internet usage at this age can be at its highest – with kids talking to friends after school or expressing themselves through personal Web pages.
We need to help children remember that all of their classmates are going through the same changes. So, being mean and hurting people while online doesn’t help to make them feel better about themselves, it only makes someone else feel worse.
If a child is being bullied via instant messaging, e-mail or a personal blog, it is important for him/her to tell a parent, teacher or trusted adult immediately. If the child finds it difficult to talk about being bullied, suggest that they might find it easier to write down what’s been happening and give it to a trusted adult.
Pledge for middle school students:
I will remember that everyone deserves to feel safe and accepted; I will not bully, post pictures or make up stories about other kids in order to try and make myself feel better; and If I am being bullied or know a friend who is being bullied, I will tell a responsible adult right away.
Bullying begins to peak during the high school years. Kids begin to find their nitch and become involved in sports, music and other extra curricular activities. However, there still can be some cyber bullies who contact victims through social media and other forms of technology.
In one case, a student received a message on the Internet saying, “Hey John , look at this website.” After going to the Web site, John saw his photo with the headline “Welcome to the Web site that makes fun of John Smith,” as well as pages of hateful comments directed towards him and everyone in his family. The creator of the Web site had others join in, posting lewd, sexual comments and smearing John’s reputation.
This is an example of excessive cyber bullying in high school-aged individuals. While it potentially could have been meant as a joke, it took joking to another level and was looked at as a matter for the police to handle.
High school students can protect themselves from cyber bullying by:
- Being careful about to whom they give their email address and phone numbers;
- Never give their e-mail passwords to anyone, not even a close friend;
- Walk away from the computer if harassment starts, don’t begin a war of words over the computer; and
- Keep in mind that online conversations can be reproduced and spread very easily. Virtually nothing online is private.
- Remember, high school students often feel invincible, untouchable, but that sadly isn’t the case. Engaging in malice toward others over the Internet can become serious enough to have the police involved. Once students have a criminal record, it will follow them for the rest of their lives – on college applications and on job applications. Encourage students to think twice before setting up a Web site that pokes fun at someone or before they send that hateful text message to the kid in homeroom who “everyone” teases.
Parents can be one of the keys in preventing cyber bullying. Much of the bullying that occurs happens at home. Children and teens often are unsupervised while using technology. They know more about technology than their parents and don’t follow proper online etiquette. As parents, it is important that you know what your children are doing online.
Parents can help prevent cyber bullying by:
- Supervising the use of the phone, tablet, computer and videogame console.
- Don’t let your childs device stay in their bedroom overnight. Consider having them put in a common living area. Learn about and monitor the Web sites that your child visits while on the computer;
- Talk to your children about cyber bullying and encourage them to talk to you if they feel threatened while online.According to a survey by iSafe.org, 58 percent of kids did not tell their parents when someone was abusive to them online;
- Be concerned if your child spends an excessive amount of time online and, if necessary, limit his/her time spent on the computer; and
- Have your child fill out and sign an agreement or pledge, such as the ones on this Web site, about safety online.
- As a parent it is important that your children are able to trust you and feel comfortable enough to talk to you about bullying and the Internet.
Even though a lot of cyber bullying and technology use occurs at home, it is important for school districts and schools to have clear policies for dealing with cyber bullying. Cyber bullying isn’t just limited to computer use – it also can be done through smart phones and tablets. As social media and technology use continues to grow in popularity among students, so, too, does cyber bullying.
Schools can do a number of things to control cyber bullying, including:
- Integrating curriculum-based anti-bullying programs into classrooms;
- Educating teachers on dangers of cyber bullying;
- Changing or creating new school board policy to include harassment associated with technology;
- Establish serious consequences for students who don’t abide by rules;
- Block district-wide access to sites that can not be monitored
- If your school has a wireless network, restrict cell phone and tablet usage during class time; and
- Include a section on cyber bullying in the student handbook and make sure that all students read and sign the book acknowledging the policy.
- School districts should consider establishing new guidelines to deal with new forms of harassment, such as cyber bullying. Districts should clearly outline what disciplinary action will be taken when cyber bullying or other forms of victimization disrupt the learning environment. School districts also can help control the problem by sending letters home, posting safety tips on district Web sites and taking time to discuss the dangers associated with cyber bullying with students.