When fall hits that is typically the time to go back to school. With children and people returning to school means different stresses, routine changes, more traffic at peak times, homework, interactions with peers and more. Adults with children are not the only ones affected by this change, as a society as a whole we are affected by this change, through work, outings and our friends who have children. Unfortunately with children of all ages (elementary, homeschooled, middle school, high school, college, and graduate school) returning to school can mean an increase risk to experience bullying, which nowadays comes in many different forms, in which we have to be aware and on the lookout for.
What is Cyberbullying: 1,2,3
Today's bullies are not necessarily more vicious, they are more viral. Whether on Facebook, Instagram, or the several of other social media platforms, cyber bullies have 24/7 access to their victims. With a click or a swipe they can upload photos, videos, and personal details about victims with the goal of humiliating and degrading their targets. Bullies can engage in this despicable behavior from the comfort of their own homes, which can create psychological distance from the consequences of their actions, and a decreased sense of accountability. On top of that a cyber bully's audience is also markedly different than in years past. Schoolyard bullies taunt victims in front of peers on the playground. Cyber bullies taunt victims on the World Wide Web, sometimes hidden from adults. Unlike a playground punch that sends a victim home with a black eye, online aggression can be unnoticed, unacknowledged and deadly. Every year we see teen suicides correlated with cyber bullying behavior. Consequently, families, school authorities, and community members are increasingly focused on spotting potential victims before it is too late. Yet due to the nature of cyber bullying, they can be challenging to identify.
Cyber bullying is an invisible epidemic because it happens online. Parents miss it, peers miss it, and teachers miss it. We don't hear it, because teens would rather text than talk. We don't see it, because teens are intensely protective of their phones and devices. Cyberbullying is bullying that takes place using electronic technology. Cyberbullying is the use of technology to harass, threaten, embarrass, or target another person. By definition, it occurs among young people. When an adult is involved, it may meet the definition of cyber-harassment or cyberstalking, a crime that can have legal consequences and involve jail time. Examples of cyberbullying include mean text messages or emails, rumors sent by email or posted on social networking sites, and embarrassing pictures, videos, websites, or fake profiles. Electronic technology includes devices and equipment such as cell phones, computers, and tablets as well as communication tools including social media sites, text messages, chat, and websites. Sometimes cyberbullying can be easy to spot — for example, if your child shows you a text, tweet, or response to a status update on Facebook that is harsh, mean, or cruel. Other acts are less obvious, like impersonating a victim online or posting personal information, photos, or videos designed to hurt or embarrass another person. Some kids report that a fake account, webpage, or online persona has been created with the sole intention to harass and bully. Cyberbullying also can happen accidentally. The impersonal nature of text messages, IMs, and emails make it very hard to detect the sender's tone — one person's joke could be another's hurtful insult. Nevertheless, a repeated pattern of emails, texts, and online posts is rarely accidental.
Some miss cyber bullying because they hold outdated victim stereotypes. Online, cyberbullying victims include successful, well-adjusted adolescents that do not fit a “victim” stereotype. Yet online dynamics are very different than in person. On the playground, bullies punch down—picking on the weak, or the small. But online, unencumbered by physical limitations, bullies are empowered to expand their range of targets. Everyone is vulnerable. Because many kids are reluctant to report being bullied, even to their parents, it's impossible to know just how many are affected. But recent studies about cyberbullying rates have found that about 1 in 4 teens have been the victims of cyberbullying, and about 1 in 6 admit to having cyberbullied someone. In some studies, more than half of the teens surveyed said that they've experienced abuse through social and digital media.
Effects of Cyberbullying: 1,2 3
No longer limited to schoolyards or street corners, modern-day bullying can happen at home as well as at school, essentially 24 hours a day. Picked-on kids can feel like they're getting blasted nonstop and that there is no escape. As long as kids have access to a phone, computer, or other device (including tablets), they are at risk.
Severe, long-term, or frequent cyberbullying can leave both victims and bullies at greater risk for anxiety, depression, and other stress-related disorders. In some rare but highly publicized cases, some kids have turned to suicide. Experts say that kids who are bullied and the bullies themselves are at a higher risk for suicidal thoughts, attempts, and completed suicides. The punishment for cyberbullies can include being suspended from school or kicked off of sports teams. Certain types of cyberbullying can be considered crimes.
Kids who are cyberbullied are more likely to:
• Use alcohol and drugs
• Skip school
• Experience in-person bullying
• Be unwilling to attend school
• Receive poor grades
• Have lower self-esteem
• Have more health problems
Signs of Cyberbullying1,2 3
Many kids and teens who are cyberbullied don't want to tell a teacher or parent, often because they feel ashamed of the social stigma or fear that their computer privileges will be taken away at home.
Signs of cyberbullying vary, but may include:
• being emotionally upset during or after using the Internet or the phone
• being very secretive or protective of one's digital life
• withdrawal from family members, friends, and activities
• avoiding school or group gatherings
• slipping grades and "acting out" in anger at home
• changes in mood, behavior, sleep, or appetite
• wanting to stop using the computer or cellphone
• being nervous or jumpy when getting an instant message, text, or email
• avoiding discussions about computer or cellphone activities
• Becomes sad, angry, or distressed during or after using the Internet or cell phone.
• Appears anxious when receiving a text, IM, or email.
• Avoids discussions or is secretive about computer or cell phone activities.
• Withdraws from family, friends, and activities they previously enjoyed.
• Suffers an unexplained drop in grades.
• Refuses to go to school or to specific classes, or avoids group activities.
• Shows changes in mood, behavior, sleep, appetite, or shows signs of depression or anxiety.
How to Help1,2 3
For Victims who are Children or Teens:
Know that it’s not your fault. If you are bullied you mustn’t blame yourself. No one deserves to be treated cruelly.
Don’t respond or retaliate. Sometimes a reaction is exactly what aggressors are looking for because they think it gives them power over you, and you don’t want to empower a bully. As for retaliating, getting back at a bully turns you into one and can turn one mean act into a chain reaction. If you can, remove yourself from the situation. If you can’t, sometimes humor disarms or distracts a person from bullying.
Save the evidence. The only good news about bullying online or on phones is that it can usually be captured, saved, and shown to someone who can help. You can save that evidence in case things escalate.
Tell the person to stop. This is completely up to you, don’t do it if you don’t feel totally comfortable doing it, because you need to make your position completely clear that you will not stand for this treatment any more.
Reach out for help. Especially if the behavior’s really getting to you.
Use available tech tools. Most social media apps and services allow you to block the person. Whether the harassment’s in an app, texting, comments or tagged photos, do yourself a favor and block the person. You can also report the problem to the service. If you’re getting threats of physical harm, you should call your local police (with a parent or guardian’s help) and consider reporting it to school authorities.
Protect your accounts. Don’t share your passwords with anyone, even your closest friends.
Reporting threats of harm and inappropriate sexual messages to the police. In many cases, the cyberbully's actions can be prosecuted by law.
Being relentless. Cyberbullying is rarely limited to one or two incidents. It's far more likely to be a sustained attack on you over a period of time. So, like the cyberbully, you may have to be relentless and keep reporting each and every bullying incident until it stops. There is no reason for you to ever put up with cyberbullying.
If someone you know is being bullied, take action. The best thing you can do is try to stop the bullying by taking a stand against it. If you can’t stop it, support the person being bullied. Consider together whether you should report the bullying. If you’re not already friends, even a kind word can help reduce the pain. At the very least, help by not passing along a mean message and not giving positive attention to the person doing the bullying.
For Parents, Teachers or Adults
Know that you’re lucky if your child asks for help. If your child’s losing sleep or doesn’t want to go to school or seems agitated when on his or her computer or phone, ask why as calmly and open-heartedly as possible. Feel free to ask if it has anything to do with mean behavior or social issues. But even if it does, don’t assume it’s bullying. You won’t know until you get the full story, starting with your child’s perspective.
Work with your child. There are two reasons why you’ll want to keep your child involved. Bullying and cyberbullying usually involve a loss of dignity or control over a social situation, and involving your child in finding solutions helps him or her regain that. The second reason is about context. Because the bullying is almost always related to school life and our kids understand the situation and context better than parents ever can, their perspective is key to getting to the bottom of the situation and working out a solution.
Respond thoughtfully, not fast. If you respond publicly or if your child’s peers find out about even a discreet meeting with school authorities, the marginalization can get worse, which is why any response needs to be well thought out.
More than one perspective needed. Your child’s account of what happened is likely completely sincere, but remember that one person’s truth isn’t necessarily everybody’s. You’ll need to get other perspectives and be open-minded about what they are.
What victims say helps most is to be heard, really listened to, either by a friend or
an adult who cares? That’s why, if your kids come to you for help, it’s so important to respond thoughtfully and involve them. Just by being heard respectfully, a child is often well on the way to healing.
The ultimate goal is restored self-respect and greater resilience in your child. What your child needs most is to regain a sense of dignity. Sometimes that means standing up to the bully, sometimes not. Together, you and your child can figure out how to get there.
Preventing communication from the cyberbully, by blocking their email address, cell phone number, and deleting them from social media contacts. Report their activities to their internet service provider (ISP) or to any social media or other web sites they use to target you.
Listen. If you discover that your child is being cyberbullied, offer comfort and support. Talking about any bullying experiences you had in your childhood might help your child feel less alone. Let your child know that it's not his or her fault, and that bullying says more about the bully than the victim. Praise your child for doing the right thing by talking to you about it. Remind your child that he or she isn't alone, a lot of people get bullied at some point. Reassure your child that you will figure out what to do about it together.
Let someone at school (the principal, school nurse, or a counselor or teacher) know about the situation. Many schools, school districts, and after-school clubs have protocols for responding to cyberbullying; these vary by district and state. But before reporting the problem, let your child know that you plan to do so, so that you can work out a plan that makes you both feel comfortable.
Encourage your child not to respond to cyberbullying, because doing so just fuels the fire and makes the situation worse.
Limit access to technology. Although it's hurtful, many kids who are bullied can't resist the temptation to check websites or phones to see if there are new messages. Keep the computer in a public place in the house (no laptops in children's bedrooms, for example) and put limits on the use of cellphones and games.
Know your kids' online world. Ask to "friend" or "follow" your child on social media sites, but do not abuse this privilege by commenting or posting anything to your child's profile. Check their postings and the sites kids visit, and be aware of how they spend their time online.
Learn about ways to keep your kids safe online. Encourage them to safeguard passwords and to never post their address or whereabouts when out and about.
If your son or daughter agrees, you may also arrange for mediation with a therapist or counselor at school who can work with your child and/or the bully.
When Your Child Is the Bully
Finding out that your kid is the one who is behaving badly can be upsetting and heartbreaking. It's important to address the problem head on and not wait for it to go away. Talk to your child firmly about his or her actions and explain the negative impact it has on others. Joking and teasing might seem harmless to one person, but it can be hurtful to another. Bullying, in any form, is unacceptable; there can be serious (and sometimes permanent) consequences at home, school, and in the community if it continues. Remind your child that the use of cellphones and computers is a privilege. Sometimes it helps to restrict the use of these devices until behavior improves. If you feel your child should have a cellphone for safety reasons, make sure it is a phone that can be used only for emergencies. Set strict parental controls on all devices. To get to the heart of the matter, talking to teachers, guidance counselors, and other school officials can help identify situations that lead a kid to bully others. If your child has trouble managing anger, talk to a therapist about helping your son or daughter learn to cope with anger, hurt, frustration, and other strong emotions in a healthy way. Professional counseling also can help improve kids' confidence and social skills, which in turn can reduce the risk of bullying. And don't forget to set a good example yourself — model good online habits to help your kids understand the benefits and the dangers of life in the digital world.