Pretty much every movie for children and teens includes a bully as the villian. Ralphie was bullied by Farkus, Regina George terrorized North Shore High, and Biff tormented generations of McFlys. In the movies, it’s easy to identify and root against the bully. When it comes to children and adolescents online, it’s a bit more complicated.
What is Cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying, according to Stopbullying.gov, is “bullying that takes place over digital devices like cell phones, computers, and tablets. Cyberbullying can occur through SMS, Text, and apps, or online in social media, forums, or gaming where people can view, participate in, or share content.” It can include sending, posting, or sharing negative, harmful, false, or mean content about someone else. It can also involve sharing personal or private information that causes embarrassment or humiliation.
Once parents understand what cyberbullying is, we need to learn how to first prevent the bullying from occurring, second recognize if/when it is happening, and third know how to address the issue in a constructive manner.
Because bullies have always been the “bad guys” in popular culture, many parents ignore the possibility that their children could, in fact, be the bully. However, often bullying behavior is a symptom or reaction to other environmental factors.
Research shows that children and adolescents who bully are often bullied themselves or witness bullying behavior. Much of this often comes from home. If a child is bullied by siblings or parents, they are much more likely to react by bullying others. A growing body of research links spanking as a form of discipline to many negative outcomes, including increasing the likelihood that a child will exhibit aggressive or bullying behavior.
On the other hand, research has shown that kids who exhibited higher levels of empathy were significantly less likely to participate in cyberbullying. Experts seem to agree that parents can reduce the likelihood of their children participating in bullying behavior by teaching empathy and compassion at home while reducing any negative or aggressive behavior by family members, including themselves.
Stopbulling.gov tells us the most common places where cyberbullying occurs are:
- Social Media, such as Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, and Tik Tok
- Text messaging and messaging apps on mobile or tablet devices
- Instant messaging, direct messaging, and online chatting over the internet
- Online forums, chat rooms, and message boards, such as Reddit
- Online gaming communities
It can be difficult to recognize and address cyberbullying because of the following factors:
Persistent – Digital devices offer an ability to immediately and continuously communicate 24 hours a day, so it can be difficult for children experiencing cyberbullying to find relief.
Permanent – Most information communicated electronically is permanent and public, if not reported and removed. A negative online reputation, including for those who bully, can impact college admissions, employment, and other areas of life.
Hard to Notice – Because teachers and parents may not overhear or see cyberbullying taking place, it is harder to recognize.
The Center for Parenting Education recommends that parents:
- maintain open and honest communication,
- teach about Internet safety and cyber-bullying,
- build self-confidence,
- establish enforceable rules,
- and keep the computer in a central easily monitored location.
They tell us that “listening is probably the most important tool we can use when helping our children to deal with bullying.” Once we listen to our children’s experiences and concerns, then, “We need to keep the conversation going with our children regarding the dangers – and fun – of the internet. Revisit the issues periodically to keep the lines of communication open about cyber-safety; remember that as your children grow, the issues that they face on-line will continue to change.”
They also stress that parents consistently teach their children about internet safety including using social media, being aware of what they post, and avoiding online predators. Once parents and children learn to recognize cyberbullying, we can then address it.
Managing and Addressing Cyberbullying
Stompoutbullying.org suggests that kids address bullying with the following approaches:
Never respond to harassing, negative and threatening responses about you
- Print out the posts and delete them.
- Block the person who is harassing you
- If you are being threatened online, bring the printed posts to your parents. They should contact the computer crimes unit at your local police precinct. If your town is small and your police department does not have a computer crimes unit, they should bring the posts to a supervising law enforcement officer at your nearest precinct.
- If you are being harassed on Facebook, report it to Facebook.
- Never respond to Cybertext or any online harassment
- If you are being harassed by texting, delete the texts and block the number.
- If you are being threatened by texting, write down all of the text messages and the number they are coming from and block the person texting you. Bring this to your cell phone provider who can take action against the texter. You should also bring these messages and phone numbers to the police.
- NEVER respond or forward nude photos. No matter how much your boyfriend tells you he loves you … they nude photos WILL go viral! And it’s against the law to send nude photos online.
- If someone has sent a nude photo of you to others and its gone viral, tell your parents immediately. Never keep this information from them.
Stopbullying.gov emphasizes that when cyberbullying happens, it is important to document and report the behavior so it can be addressed. They provide directions and resources for reporting cyberbullying to online service providers, law enforcement, and schools.