Beyond the Blacktop: Stopping Cyberbullying

What comes to mind when you think of “bullying?”

For most folks, the classic picture of a bully is a mean, aggressive kid – maybe one who grew up a bit quicker than his or her peers – using their physical presence and harsh words to intimidate others. We’ve seen this image play out in books and movies over the years: the large bully, looming in the shadows of the playground with their posse nearby, looking for their next victim to verbally and physically assault. For many folks, this accurately describes the bullies of their youth.

This image is an oversimplification of bullying – even the kind of a bygone era. Of course there are still bullies who fit this description and continue to haunt adolescence around the world. In recent years, however, technology has expanded the territory of bullies beyond blacktops and neighborhood parks and into the more private lives of children (and adults).

Internet access has grown exponentially in recent years. Children are able to access the web at increasingly younger ages. In 1997, only 11% of children ages 3 through 17 had used the Internet at home. By 2011, that number had grown to 58%.[1] In 2012, Pew reported that 77% of teenagers own a cellphone, with 23% of teens surveyed owning a smart phone.[2]

A growth in Internet access means more opportunities for bullying behavior and more personal, private attacks. A growing number of young people are using social networks and cell phone features to threaten others. Cyberbullying, according to StopBullying.gov, “is bullying that takes place using electronic technology…[including] devices and equipment such as cell phones, computers, and tablets as well as communication tools including social media sites, text messages, chat, and websites.”[3] Bullyingstatistics.org gives the following examples of cyberbullying:[4]

  • Sending mean messages or threats to a person’s email account or cell phone
  • Spreading rumors online or through texts
  • Posting hurtful or threatening messages on social networking sites or web pages
  • Stealing a person’s account information to break into their account and send damaging messages
  • Pretending to be someone else online to hurt another person
  • Taking unflattering pictures of a person and spreading them through cell phones or the Internet
  • Sexting, or circulating sexually suggestive pictures or messages about a person.

By some estimates, “over half of adolescents and teens have been bullied online, and about the same number have engaged in cyber bullying.”[5]  This is an alarming trend, especially given the pernicious nature of online bullying. Cyberbullying can happen 24 hours a day and content can spread quickly; content that is hard to delete or even trace to its source.This trend is not unique to children. In recent weeks, so-called Internet trolls have hacked private photos of celebrities and shared them widely online. It seems that no one is safe from a technologically savvy bully.Despite the challenges of uncovering and stopping online attacks, there are a number of best practices that children, parents, educators, and caregivers can put in to place to ensure that children are less likely to be the victim of cyberbullying.

Here are a few quick tips for children who are the victims of cyber bullying, from ConnectSafely.org:[6]

  • Know it’s not your fault.
  • Don’t respond or retaliate.
  • Save the evidence.
  • Tell the person to stop.
  • Reach out to an adult for help.
  • Use available technology – like blocking certain contacts.
  • Protect your accounts and don’t share passwords.

For adults:

  • Know that you’re lucky if your child asks for help.
  • Work with your child.
  • Respond thoughtfully, not fast.
  • Get additional perspectives.
  • Listen – victims need to be heard.
  • Work to restore self respect.
  • Build resilience in your children.

Bullying, in any of its forms, is a difficult problem to address. As with most challenges, openness and honesty between children and adults is the best way to prevent or stop bullying online. For additional resources on bullying, you can visit our recent resource round-up or visit StopBullying.gov.

[1] http://www.childtrends.org/?indicators=home-computer-access

[2] http://www.pewinternet.org/2012/03/19/cell-phone-ownership/

[3] http://www.stopbullying.gov/cyberbullying/what-is-it/index.html

[4] http://www.bullyingstatistics.org/content/cyber-bullying-statistics.html

[5] i-SAFE Foundation, www.isafe.org

[6] http://www.connectsafely.org/tips-to-help-stop-cyberbullying/

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