By: Michaela Patoilo
What do you think of when you hear the word ‘bullying’? Do you think of a big, burly boy cornering a frail, younger kid for his lunch money? Or do you think of girls whispering behind each other’s backs in school hallways? Regardless of your mental image of bullying, it is more than likely representative of the in-person bullying tactics of our youth. As technology has evolved, it has created a platform for more complex, and often more discrete, harassment, in the form of cyberbullying.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ website, Stopbullying.gov, the term cyberbullying refers to repeated and intentional harassment of another through digital platforms, including but not limited to, cell phones, computers, tablets, apps, social media, and online. It takes many forms, as expected with our expansive access to technology, but can include: posting someone’s private information or photographs, sending hateful or negative text messages, posting negative content about someone else, or intentional embarrassment and humiliation of others.
What Makes Cyberbullying So Detrimental?
- Anonymity – Traditional face-to-face bullying leaves no questions about the perpetrator’s identity. However, on digital platforms, bullies can hide behind usernames and utilize settings to make themselves almost entirely anonymous. As the Cyberbullying Research Center notes, this can be more harmful than traditional bullying because it leads victims to question who is targeting them, and why.
- Distance – Though traditional bullying tactics require the aggressor and target to be in relatively close proximity, cyberbullying can reach across multiple platforms and geographical locations. Cyberbullying can be perpetrated from any remote location with internet/technological access. That being said, bullies hiding behind digital media often separate themselves from a sense of accountability or guilt because they don’t see their victim’s immediate response or the true extent of their actions’ consequences.
- Potential Reach – Especially in the realm of online and social media, cyberbullying is not an isolated incident. While there may be one main perpetrator and one main victim, the damage has very real potential to spread. Any number of people, local or otherwise, may see the harmful content, or even participate in the harassment, doing further damage.
What Can Parents Do?
- Build Trust – Whether you suspect your child is being cyberbullied or have witnessed cyberbullying, clearly convey to them that you will support and believe them. If you begin to notice changes in your child’s technology use, ask questions to better understand the situation. If cyberbullying occurs, gaining the child’s perspective and suggested potential solutions will communicate that you want to work together to make it stop, rather than make it worse.
- Monitor Activity – Monitoring your child’s technology use, informally or through more formal measures, can make a big difference in preventing cyberbullying. While parental control settings and digital monitoring software are available, it is also important for parents to be digitally aware. This may include learning about the newest apps and digital platforms, knowing your child’s usernames and passwords, or even following/friending your child on social media. If cyberbullying is apparent, assist your child in documenting (i.e. taking screenshots) and reporting the behavior appropriately.
- Discuss Appropriate Behaviors – At each age and developmental stage in your child’s life, it is important to discuss with them what behaviors are appropriate online and what rules you have in place for the use of apps, social media, and digital devices. This includes both the child’s behavior and the behavior of those they interact with. While the digital world may seem disconnected from reality, stress that the potential consequences of online misbehavior are very real.
What Can Teachers Do?
- Take the Situation Seriously – If you hear students talking about cyberbullying or become aware of behavior that fits the description of cyberbullying, take note. Occasionally, students will come to a trusted teacher to report cyberbullying, but oftentimes, subtle signs of victimization will be visible via group and peer-to-peer interactions in the classroom. In the case of suspected or confirmed cyberbullying, speak to the targeted student privately to learn more about the situation. You may also speak with their parents if necessary to facilitate the proper reporting protocols. For further information on teacher-specific ways to recognize cyberbullying, you can visit Scholastic’s article about it here.
- Involve Students in Prevention – Obviously, it is important to respond appropriately when cyberbullying occurs, but preventative efforts are also critical. To be proactive in the fight against cyberbullying, teachers can talk to their students about the importance of responsible technology use and the dangers of being a bystander. Prompting students to talk about cyberbullying and report incidents creates a safer academic and social atmosphere to foster learning.
- Educate the Community – The number one most effective preventative effort is education. Teachers can help students and parents better understand the consequences of negative online behavior (including one’s online reputation) and explain how cyberbullying is as damaging and serious as traditional bullying. In addition, helping students understand the potential disciplinary actions perpetrators may face and the school’s cyberbullying policies encourage a more tolerant and respectful school environment.