Remember when "bullying" meant a little stolen lunch money, or a playground run-in with an especially tall fifth grader? Those were the days. Kids today face an entirely different beast: cyberbullying. You've heard of it before, but what does it really mean?
"Cyberbullying" is a term that encompasses hostile or harassing communication through different mediums of technology. Remember, this type of behavior only counts as cyberbullying when the exchange takes place between minors. If an adult is involved, the offense is more serious.
Potential avenues for cyberbullies include not only websites and chatrooms, but also emails, text messages, and social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. Unlike those playground bullies from your school days, cyberbullies can often act anonymously, pretending to be someone else or posting from mean remarks from a fake account. To make matters worse, cyberbullying does not necessarily end when the school day does. Our kids are constantly connected through cellphones and the Internet, which makes this kind of torment hard to escape. A cyberbully might post or send mean or degrading comments to or about their victim, post unflattering or manipulated photos of their victim, or pose as someone else in order to embarrass their victim. According to the Cyberbullying Research Center, about 24% of students surveyed in their last several studies have personally experienced cyberbullying.
So, what can you do?
School staff and administration often have limited power when it comes to cyberbullying because so much of the damage is done outside of school and after school hours. You, as parents, are really the first line of defense when it comes to preventing and stopping cyberbullying.
Talk to your kids about cyberbullying. Motives for this type of behavior vary: sometimes it's about revenge or anger, but sometimes it's just for laughs or because of a dare. Remind your kids that the anonymity of the Internet does not make any kind of bullying, teasing, or harassment acceptable.
On the flip side, keep the lines of communication open so that your kids would feel comfortable talking to you if they were the ones being bullied. Stopcyberbullying.org suggests that parents teach their kids to "stop, block, and tell." (1) Do not answer a mean message, (2) block the sender, and (3) inform an adult. In some cases, it may be appropriate to report the cyberbullying to the service provider, like Facebook for example, or to school administrators. In serious cases that include threats of violence, it may even be appropriate to contact law enforcement.
It is hard to fight an invisible enemy, but not impossible. We can combat cyberbullying with supportive, honest, face-to-face communication with our children. Stay informed and stay involved.