The Internet is great. With the world at our fingertips, it allows anyone to see, communicate with, and interact with millions of people.
So, what's the catch?
Despite the infinite opportunities that await us on the web, there are dangers that lurk in the shadows. And no one is more vulnerable than our children. Bullies and trolls have taken to cyberspace to harass and abuse people. There's no doubt that it's affecting our children. According to the U.S. Department of Justice:
"160,000 kids per day do not attend school for fear of being bullied."
What can we do?
As much of a threat cyber bullying is to children and teens across the country, there are measures we can take as parents, peers, and teachers to prevent and reduce it from happening.
We're going to discuss cyberbullying in this guide. We'll start with defining what cyberbullying is, outline some facts and statistics, examine its relationship with the law, and describe the effects it can have on its victims. From there, we'll walk you through the steps you can take to prevent cyberbullying, how to properly report it, and offer a wealth of additional resources beyond the scope of this guide you should read.
In This Guide
What is Cyberbullying?
The definition of a bully is someone who uses physical strength or manipulation to outright harm or intimidates victims. Typically, the effect of bullying is almost certainly negative on the victim.
Now, let's take a moment to define cyberbully. After all, it's important to define cyberbully so you can fully understand the roots of the term.
Cyberbullying happens over electronic devices such as cell phones, tablets, and laptop computers. Such bullying messages are delivered via an e-mail account, text messages, live chat, chat rooms, websites and social media sites. Mean messages, rumors or posts on social networks, embarrassing photos, videos, fake posts and profiles all are examples of cyberbullying.
With easier access to computers and mobile phones, bullies are shifting online to say mean or hurtful messages, spread rumors, post embarrassing or fake photos or video, and more. Although cyberbullying may not be as obvious as its physical alternative, the effects can be just as dangerous to the long-term development of a child.
Cyberbullying has become the subject of many researchers, including Dr. Sameer Hinduja, who known for his groundbreaking work on both cyberbullying and safe social media use. Dr. Sameer Hinduja is currently providing training to schools, youth organizations, parents, and kids on how to handle cyberbullying.
It's Not Always Children
Though cyber bullies are likely to peers that are of similar of age to the victim, that may not always be the case. Take, for instance, Megan Meier, a young 13-year-old girl who was cyberbullied by adults - specifically parents of a former girlfriend of Megan's - posing as a 16-year-old boy named Josh Evans. Horrifically, Megan Meier committed suicide due to an onslaught of insults and shaming - typically aggressive behavior - and the family wasn't charged.
The findings show:
- Of those surveyed, 34% had been cyberbullied at some point their kid life.
- 26% of people reported that they had been cyberbullied twice or more in the past 30 days.
Of the common types of cyberbullying surveyed in the study, the findings show:
- About 23% of those surveyed reported they had experienced mean or hurtful comments in the 30-day period.
- About 20% had false or hurtful rumors spread about them online.
- About 12% of those surveyed reported they were threatened via mobile phone text message in the 30-day period.
- About 10% of those surveyed stated that a cyberbully had pretended to be them at least once during the 30-day period.
Statistics on Cyberbully Offenders
The study also collected information on the bullies themselves.
- About 12% of students surveyed admitted they have cyberbullied at least once in their kid life.
Of the common types of cyberbullying surveyed in the study, the findings show:
- At least 8% of those surveyed used two or more types of cyberbullying within the 30-day period.
- 7% of the participants admitted to posting means comments about others.
- 4% pretended to be someone else online and acted in a way that was mean or harmful to them.
- 4% of students surveyed admitted to threatening someone online.
Cyberbullying by Gender
The Cyberbullying Research Center also published their findings on cyberbullying by gender:
- About 37% of the female participants surveyed reported that they have been cyberbullied in their child life.
- For males, about 30% reported they had been the target of a cyberbullying attack.
- About 10% of females stated they have cyberbullied others at least once in their lifetime.
- About 13% of males reported they have cyberbullied others at least once in their child life.
Girls report being the victim of ugly rumors online, while boys report being threatened physically online. While the Cyberbullying Research Center points out that the statistics cited are gleaned from an imperfect social science study, the results are similar to earlier commissioned studies.
In a similar government-sponsored the study, the 2014–15 School Crime Supplement (National Center for Education Statistics and Bureau of Justice Statistics) shows that about 21% of U.S. students ages 12-18 had experienced cyberbullying.
Ink also reports that public schools are less prepared to combat cyberbullying compared to private schools. In fact, 45 percent of public school students report that their school has an extensive anti-bullying policy, compared to 59 percent of private school students. The public school climate, in other words, isn't nearly as safe compared to the private school climate.
Types of Cyberbullying
Unfortunately, kid bullying has been part of both middle school and high school life, to the point that many films often depict scenes between the kid bully and the victim. However, online bullying has surfaced only more recently.
Not only does cyberbullying take place over various electronic devices via an e-mail account, texting, websites and social media, but cyber bullies employ several types of attacks.
1. Online Harassment
A cyber bully typically sends mean messages to a person or group multiple times. The term online harassment implies a pattern of bullying. Cyberstalking is simply one type of online harassment, and victims are of all types, whether they are lesbian, gay, bisexual or straight.
The signature attribute of online harassment is that it is comprised of ongoing rude attacks over time. At it's worst it culminates in incidents of harassment in the offline world. Such harassment calls for prevention and intervention.
Cyberstalking is online stalking, employing the Internet to stalk and harass a person. Cyberstalkers use identity theft, threats, false accusations, monitoring and more in pursuit of their target. In some cases cyberstalkers seek to sexually or otherwise exploit minors, crossing the line into criminal activity.
Whatever form the cyberstalking takes, the key element is that it is unwanted, and in many cases illegal. Whether it's via phone calls, instant messenger, social media or other devices, if you or your family is subject to an onslaught of unwanted harassment, contact or attention, it can be defined as cyberstalking.
Pro Tip: We also have a guide full of tips for preventing child identity theft that you can use as a resource.
Another form of cyberbullying is exclusion, where a person is purposefully left out of an online group, chat room, or site. Other members of the group sprinkle mean comments about the excluded person and harass them in cyberspace.
If a school bully online posts personal or private information about someone publicly, it's called outing. A bully may post embarrassing pictures, videos, personal texts, email or instant messages.
A typical bully online might print or share messages or conversations including sexual (i.e. outing the victim's lesbian gay bisexual sexual orientation) or personal information, making them public by "outing" a person via the Internet.
As a result of the "outing," using these embarrassing pictures, videos, and messages, peers may harass the victim.
Masquerading is a deceptive type of cyber bullying. The bully creates a fake messaging name or email address or hijacks someone else's online identity to bully a person while pretending to be someone else.
In case your child's safety is threatened, don't hesitate to contact a school administrator, school district officials, and law enforcement authorities immediately. For most schools, there is a school policy in place to combat against bullying of all types.
Cyberbullying and the Law
The subject of how to prevent cyberbullying has only been gaining ground fairly recently. Laws addressing cyberbullying only recently are starting to hit the books, as legislators become aware of high-profile cases. While cyberbully laws are beginning to emerge, enforcement is often left to school administrators or school district officials to sort out.
At the school level, cyberbullying is typically handled as a civil matter, rather than a criminal offense, but there are quite a few cases where the anti-bullying policy is considered weak.
In some instances, prosecutors use laws already on the books to go after cyber bullies. In extreme cases, criminal harassment statutes are cited in bringing charges against perpetrators of cyberbullying.
Over time, many states have added specific cyberbully laws addressing the problem of cyberbullying and electronic harassment. There is a movement towards increasing accountability for cyberbullying at school and in general, with more criminal statutes being added to the books. School officials now intervene with suspensions or expulsions for cyber bullies.
The Albuquerque public schools are one such example of schools taking the initiative to prevent both bullying and cyberbullying. In fact, you can view the Albuquerque Public Schools' anti-bullying program and procedural directives, which include school policy information on prohibition, location, and context of bullying, district staff responsibilities, and more.
New laws provide for jail time for cyber bullies convicted of criminal misdemeanors or felonies.
In some situations, cyberbullying is considered a crime and should be reported to the authorities. The laws vary by state. Here are examples of criminal cyberbullying:
- Threats of violence
- Child pornography or sexually explicit photos or messages
- Making a video or photo of a person in a situation where they would expect privacy
- Hate crimes and stalking
Effects of Cyberbullying
Like any effect of bullying, the effects of cyberbullying can permeate the school environment, with the bullies themselves as well as those who are cyberbullied being affected, according to stopbullying.gov.
For one, building self-esteem is far more difficult with a bully harassing the victim. Victims of bullying may experience mental and physical health problems, as well as problems at school. They often battle anxiety, depression, feelings of sadness and loneliness, and problems with eating and sleeping. They can become withdrawn from activities they usually enjoy. Young people who are bullied often experience these problems into adulthood.
Mean messages, rumors or posts on social media, embarrassing photos, videos, fake posts and profiles all are examples of cyberbullying.
Victims of bullying may see their academic performance lessen, with lower grades and test scores as a result. They become prone to skip school or drop out. There have been several cases of kids who were bullied retaliating with extreme violence. This is why bully prevention measures must be set in place. Fortunately, there are several bully prevention methods to utilize if you witness a cyberbullying attack in progress.
There are cyberbully prevention measures you can take to teach your child about cyberbullying. It's key to document and report instances of cyberbullying.
Never respond to a cyber bully and do not forward their messages. Keep a chronological timeline of the cyberbully's messages and activity, recording the time, date and content of the cyberbullying. Save screenshots, emails and text messages from cyber bullies. This evidence may be used against cyber bullies in reporting their attacks to cell phone and web service providers.
Be sure to block any cyber bully who sends messages or posts to your social media accounts. Report any cyberbullying to your social media and Internet service providers (ISP), as it violates their terms of service.
Take a look at the policies of social network sites with regard to cyberbullying. They describe inappropriate content, as well as your options in case of cyberbully attacks. Also, review your privacy settings so you know how to block users and who is allow to contact you or see your posts. Always report cyberbullying to social network sites where it happens.
Report Cyberbullying to Schools
The school climate can be seriously disrupted by cyberbullying, where it's often connected to real-time, in-person bullying. Schools appreciate receiving information about cyberbullying to help create cyberbully prevention and response strategies. Over time, many states have required schools to address cyberbullying officially as part of their anti-bullying program.
If Your Child is Cyberbullied
Parents are advised to talk with their children about online and smartphone behavior, especially online bully behavior - aggressive behaviors, to be exact - before they start using digital devices. In case your child has been bullied online, here are some corrective action steps to take. You can find more tips and discussions on smartphone behavior in our cell phones for kids guide.
Encourage these young people to talk to a trusted adult about what happened. An adult can listen to the details of the incident and help. Emphasize that this is sticking up for yourself, it's not tattling. Mention that their school likely has rules against online bullying.
Children can also talk to a good friend. When a child feels bad, it can help to talk about the problem with their peers. Not only that, but friends are incredibly useful in building self-esteem that might otherwise be attacked during a cyberbullying incident.
When Should Parents Step in With a Cyberbullying Situation?
Plenty of children don't tell their parents about being cyberbullied. They might be embarrassed or ashamed to be the brunt of a cyberbullying attack, or fearful that things will become worse if parents seek corrective action. Chance are, if you find our your child has been cyberbullied, the situation is bad enough that you should be involved.
Talk to your child and get as much information as you can about the situation. Working together, make a plan to address the problem. It's important to reach consensus on what to do, to give your child a sense of control and strength in the face of cyberbullying.
Interestingly, when a kids stick up for each other, it's been established that peer support creates an effective defense against bullying. This type of school bully seeks to isolate their target. If kids back each other up, the bully loses power and backs down. Remind children to bond with their friends for support.
In case your child's safety is threatened, don't hesitate to contact school and law enforcement authorities immediately.
Finally, it's worth looking into apps designed to fight cyberbullying for installation on digital devices used by kids.
What Should I Teach my Kids About Safe Behavior Online?
Child safety, especially online, is important. As your kids begin to go online on various electronic devices, talk to them about Internet child safety. Set the bar high, requiring them to be respectful of others online and act as responsible digital citizens. Monitor their web use to help them avoid cyberbullying and inappropriate content.
- Caution kids to keep their personal information private and deploy Internet safety techniques. This includes passwords, phone number, address, and gossip. Check out our guide on preventing child identity theft for effective tips and strategies.
- Encourage them to treat others with respect and practice good digital citizenship. If they disagree with someone online, do so politely. There are also sources, such as CommonSense.org, that will teach good digital citizenship techniques.
- Do not steal, lie or try to deceive others. In using the Internet for school, give credit where it is due for content found online.
- Stand up for your peers. If a friend or someone your child knows is being bullied, encourage your child to back them up. There is strength in the community of peers.
- Report cyberbullies. Reporting these online bully behaviors improves the Internet for everyone.
- Pay attention to family rules. Parents should set boundaries about what content is acceptable, what websites are not acceptable, and allowable hours for web surfing and texting. Responsible children earn more privileges.
- Take a moment to think before you post, share, or text. Kids, in particular, should pause to consider how they and their audience might feel after they post. You can't always delete, and even if you take down a mean comment, the damage may have been done. Teaching them proper cell phone safety guidelines goes a long way in how they act online.
Cyberbullying Resources for Parents
Cyberbullying: Hiding Behind the Screen (NLM NIH) - This comprehensive paper, from the NLM NIH (National Library of Medicine - National Institutes of Health) illustrates the ever-growing common occurrence of cyberbullying. This paper sheds a light on the subject of how to prevent cyberbullying but also details how health care professionals can leave a positive impact on victims suffering from this issue.
Interview with Justin Patchin of Cyberbullying Research Center (Safekids) - ConnectSafely.org co-director Larry Magid spoke with the co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Center, Justin Patchin. Here, you can find some insight to the growing problem of cyberbullying.
Cyberbullying and Cyberthreats (Nancy Willard) - You can purchase Nancy Willard's Cyberbullying and Cyberthreats resource guide. This guide provides school counselors, administrators, and teachers with the information they need to prevent and respond to cyberbullying instances.
Bullying and Cyberbullying (Elizabeth Englander) - This 216-page insightful book, by founder and director of the Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Center at Bridgewater State University Elizabeth Englander, discusses the misconceptions behind peer cruelty, bullying, and cyberbullying.
Cyberbullying (Pew Internet) - This Pew Internet article from 2007 contains straightforward facts and statistics regarding cyberbullying that would hold well to this day. Pew Internet also has more recent sources regarding Internet safety, such as "Parents, Teens and Digital Monitoring."
Both parents and kids can take measures against cyberbullying before it gets off the ground. A good place to start are the privacy settings on computers, tablets, and phones. Research tools you can use to keep your content private on Facebook and other social networking websites. You can control who is able to view your posts and personal information. Check privacy settings on a regular basis to ensure they are up to date.
Speak with the Internet service providers in your area to learn how about they keep your connection safe. For more information on how to stay safe online, check out our guide to Internet Safety & Online Privacy.
Never reveal personal information online, including your address, date of birth, phone number, school, credit card number and other key personal details. Don't share passwords, protect them as you would an ATM pin number or even a house key. As an exception, it's okay for children to share their passwords with their parents. Be sure to exercise these prevention and intervention measures in order to protect your child, and to contact either school officials or law enforcement if a cyberbullying issue arises.
Additionally, to keep you and your child's identity safe, we recommend the best Identity Theft Protection services to help keep your and your child's online identity safe.