Guide to Cyberbullying Prevention

Online bullying (cyberbullying) happens. Just as some individuals take pleasure in bullying others face to face, the internet has now made it possible to bully others in the privacy of their homes or anywhere there is internet access. Cyberbullying may involve groups or individuals that target others to torment using harassment, threats of violence to an individual or their loved ones, hate speech, extortion, psychological abuse, bribery or peer pressure. Since these forms of bullying can be done anonymously, as a group, or by impersonating the web identity of someone it is often hard to prevent of track down those responsible.

With the expansion of the internet and mobile devices capable of personally connecting others via the internet twenty-four hours a day, the definition of cyberbullying has been revised to include cyberbullying across any cyber connections or devices. While early cyber bullying was usually one by someone individuals knew and had access to an email address, there was not the awareness of bullying episodes there is today. Fast broadband connections, portable web accessible devices, social networks, and easily accessible technology makes it easy for cyber bullies to access personal information and for the most part remain anonymous or undetected.

Cyber Bullying Statistics

In a recent study done by an online safety organization, not only has 42% of children in grades 4-8 been bullied online, over one in four report it happens repeatedly. Bullying does not stop at taunts, 35% of students surveyed also report being threatened while online and again a significant number report threats are repeated or escalate in intensity. Twenty-one percent report mean or hurtful things being said with nearly half of those admitting it happens often. A startling 53% of students interviewed admit to saying something hurtful to others online and one in three admit to doing such things more than once. Of the student who admitted to being bullied while on the internet, over halve have not told their parents, teachers or any adult about the attacks. Student perspectives regarding cyberbullying are that there is little they can do to prevent it or escape from a cyber bully.

Where does this leave Victims?

Information from the Cyberbullying Research Center verifies that students report feeling scared, frustrated, sad, embarrassed, and angry over cyber bully attacks yet feel hopeless to prevent or stop it from happening. Girls often express frustration while boys are more likely to admit fear as their primary responds to repeated cyberbullying. Cyberbullying does not remain private for long. With offline bullying, attacks are usually face –to-face and limited to certain environments where victims may be vulnerable. Online bullying can follow a victim anywhere inside or outside the home thanks to mobile web accessible devices. A bully does not have to be bigger or meaner than anyone else is; they simply need, and usually have, access to an internet connection. When cyberbullying takes place in a social network, it can quickly spread and once online becomes a nearly permanent record for both victims and abusers to deal with long into the future.

The harmful consequences of cyberbullying have repeatedly made news in recent years. Countless stories of victims targeted by cyber bullies have been reported in the news in small communities and larger cities nation-wide in recent years. Many of these stories make the news because victims have resorted to suicide or retaliated physically with violent crimes in responds to cyber threats. For the countless number of victims who do not make the news or report being bullied, there are still long-term consequences to self-esteem, fear for personal safety, depression, self-destructive behaviors, and declining school performance.

Recognizing and Stopping Cyberbullying

As parents, you can be aware of your child’s internet habits, friends, and sites they frequent. As studies show most students will not tell adults about cyber bullies, be aware of any changes in your child’s behavior. They may begin avoiding friends, or not interacting on their usual social networks. Schoolwork may slip and your child may seem depressed or preoccupied. Encourage your child to talk about any disturbing comments, actions, or messages. Let them know that threats, hostile remarks, hate mail, or other such text, messaging, or posting is never to be considered a joke. Be sure to caution your child from sharing person contact information online. You child should never fight cyberbullying by bullying others or resorting to their own threats of retaliation.

Be aware that your child may be embarrassed or ashamed to admit they are being harassed or threatened. Keep communication open at all times. Assure your child that they did not do anything to deserve harassment. You must also understand that ending cyber bully behavior is not simply a matter of turning off the internet. If you suspect your child is being harassed or threatened by a cyber-bully, save all messages and posts. These can be used to try tracking down the bully. Contact websites, servers, and hosts where the cyberbullying occurred. Many sites and service providers have policies in place to deal with inappropriate messages or posts. Contact your student’s school and local law authorities to report the attacks and follow up to be sure they have been addressed.

Protecting students against cyberbullying is a joint responsibility of the school and parents. Most State laws regarding cyberbulling places responsibility to supervise cyberspace within the school systems. It must be a joint responsibility to educate students on the privacy rights of others as well as student responsibility to safeguard persona information to ensure cyber safety and refuse to remain quiet when they are the victims of bullying or know of it being aimed at others.

Cyberbullying escalates in the privacy of online communications when students do not report harassment to adults. Worst many students who would not stand by and allow someone to be physically intimidated look at online harassment as a joke, or less hurtful that offline bullying. Students who are targeted with harassment are unable to escape to the safety of their homes or elsewhere since most have and use mobile devises and stay connected to the internet constantly. Typical mediation techniques used by many school systems do not work to lessen or discourage cyber bullies due to fear of retaliation. Some experts warn cyberbullying is an invisible but unfortunately results in visible and at times devastating effects. Students need to know that when it comes to any form of harassment or cyberbullying activity, silence is not an option.

Cyberbullying Laws

Resources to fight cyberbullying are increasing but laws and resources may vary from state to state. Currently, nineteen states have cyberbullying legislation in place. Most of the legislation requires school to have an active part in educating students about the importance of internet safety and to have policies in place to address bullying issues on and offline including the right to discipline students for cyber bully behavior.  A major obstacle to such school policies is the ability of schools to discipline students for behavior that most often occurs outside of school grounds. In addition to legislation requiring school policies against cyber bully activity, some states also have made cyberbullying a misdemeanor criminal offense. Combating cyberbullying is no easy task and most experts agree education over criminalization stands a better chance at preventing cyberbullying from occurring. Laws governing harassing postings frequently are scrutinized as being anti-freedom of speech. The safety of our children should be first priority yet opposition continues as legislature, laws, and concerns for student safety continue to be in the limelight of debate. Parents and other concerned adults can help by being aware of local laws and resources and standing up against all forms of harassment on or offline.