Bullying someone else used to require being face-to-face with that individual. But not anymore; now kids can hide behind cell phones and computers, making it easier than ever to engage in bullying behavior at any location and any hour of the day.
More than half of the students surveyed (in fourth through eight grade), by i-SAFE, say they have been directly affected by cyberbullying. And 42% say they have been bullied while online. Parents need to be aware of the prevalence and progression of cyberbullying, and how to prevent it.
Written words linger in the mind much longer than any spoken word, and they linger in cyberspace for what may turn out to be “forever”. A bully that sends messages in writing can inflict just as much pain as any bully on a playground – if not more due to the “no escape” nature of cyberbullying.
Related: Why We Don't Protect the Bullied
In recent years, teens and tweens are learning the hard way that schoolyard disagreements have extended into after-school hours when kids used to be able to escape negative peer messages. A simple offhanded comment can now progress to a full blown cyberbullying campaign.
Cyberbullying is Far Reaching
Parents are often the last to know when whispers take a mean turn. Cyberbullying often starts innocently:
- A child arrives home after school to an empty house and immediately heads for the computer. An easily recognizable Internet chat and social network login name means a bully can easily find them in cyberspace. When the first insulting and hateful comment is thrown, the child's response is to slap back.
- This young mind is struggling to believe that a comment such as ”everyone hates you!” is simply a hurtful statement that has no truth behind it. Most adults would simply close the connection and walk away. But, a child may engage in an argument in an effort to dispute the comment and hurt the bully with similar hateful words.
- When the parent arrives home, the child is probably off the Internet but may have a sulky attitude. Even great parents may wonder what is wrong but cannot drag the specifics out of their child.
- The next day at school the bullying continues, and the child is distracted from schoolwork assignments. Grades may begin to slide.
- This scenario is repeated many times each day in homes across America. Kids often don’t tell anyone when they are being bullied, and, since cyberbullying is especially hard for adults to witness, the horror often progresses until it has become well out of hand
The Warning Signs
- Sulky attitude.
- Slipping grades.
- More and more time is spent secluded from family and friends.
What You Can Do
From parents to teachers and students, all parties have a responsibility to prevent cyberbullying. Parents must address attitude and appetite changes in their child with intuitive questions. They should contact the school and other parents to find out if anyone else can provide insight. Teachers must remain aware of whispered conversations; talk with students about the dangers of harsh words; follow the posted bullying policy and address both parties immediately. Children should be encouraged to talk to a parent, sibling, teacher, or other adult if they receive negative electronic messages or know of others that are bullying or being bullied. Parents also need to teach children that anonymity does not give them a free license to abuse someone else. Treating anyone in an unkind manner is unacceptable, whether the treatment is rendered through words or actions.
Specific recommendations include:
- Place home computers in family areas and never secluded in a child's room.
- Never allow a child to schedule an in-person meeting with someone they talk to online. Kids are easily misled, and terrible tragedies may result.
- Obtain access to your child’s login and password information – without exception.
- Carefully guard personal information. Use the security barrier provided by social networking sites to limit access to personal information to only people who are known personally by your child.
- Check kids’ cell phone logs for unfamiliar numbers and review text messages together with your child.
- One of the most effective ways to stop the spread of negative cyber messages is to speak openly with kids about the effects of cyberbullying. Internet safety for kids needs our attention. We all need to work together to prevent any child from feeling so helpless against a cyberbully that he or she tries to solve the situation alone.
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