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Cyber bullying is a growing concern as more children and adolescents worldwide have access to more sophistocated technology. Cyber bullying is complicated by the fact that often parents and teachers do not truly understand the most recent technology or its devastating potential for causing pain and humiliation to children and adolescents.
Definition of cyber bullying
Cyber bullying was defined by Tokunaga (2010) as “any behavior performed through electronic or digital media by individuals or groups that repeatedly communicates hostile or aggressive messages intended to inflict harm or discomfort on others.” Some have suggested that the aggressive messages need not be repeated due to the shareable nature of online content. The prevalence of cyber bullying was found to be 32% of boys and over 36% of girls by Hinduja and Patchin (2008). While this percentage is unacceptably high, it appears to have reached a peak in developed nations (Livingstone et al., 2016). This could be a huge contributing factor in making teenage depression rates almost double those of adults and even higher in teenage girls.
Research has shown that the victims of cyber bullying (and “traditional” bullying) tend to be from minority ethnic groups, LGBQT, disabled, or facing mental health, or family trouble (Livingstone et al., 2016). Additionally, cyber bullies often feel free to do things that they might feel too embarassed or inhibited to do in “real life”. They do not directly see the emotional impact on their victims, so it is theorized that this worsens their behaviour (Livinstone et al., 2016).
Children are usually reluctant to report cyber bullying to their parents and teachers. Here are some of the reasons:
- they are embarrassed over the cyber bullying — for example, if a naked photo of a teen is being sent around without that teen’s permission, that teen might not want their parents to know they took such a photo of themselves in the first place.
- they are afraid that their own computer privileges might be taken away to “protect” them.
How can you find out if your child is a victim of cyber bullying?
- Keep the lines of communication with your child/adolescent open.
- Talk to them about cyber bullying and let them know that they will NOT lose their phone or computer if they tell you that they are being cyber bullied.
- Watch for changes in behaviour such as becoming upset or jumpy after being on the internet or after getting a text message.
- If your teen suddenly gets moody or angry over nothing, consider that something might be wrong.
On the one hand this is a time of raging hormones and parents often have difficulty understanding their teens. However, often there is a reason underlying the moodiness and it is important to be as open and understanding as possible. Adolescence is a time when parents often feel their child has “changed,” but teens frequently need their parents’ love and understanding more during this time than ever. When a teen says, “I hate you! You are the worst parent in the world!” they do not truly mean this. They still secretly want their mommy and daddy. And they want to be adults. It can often be a very confusing time for everyone.
What can you do about cyber bullying?
Keep a record of all emails, texts, chats, messages, etc. that contain cyber bullying and report them to the school and to your internet service provider, and, if extreme, even to the police. Talk to your teen and let them know that it is wrong for them to be treated this way and that it is not their fault. Be sure to emphasize this because cyber bullying is a form of abuse, and abuse victims often feel that they are to blame, that they must have “done” something to trigger the abuse. Remind them as often as it takes that it is not their fault.
Get more information! The following two sites are excellent resources on cyber bullying.
Books about cyber bullying
- Bullying Beyond the Schoolyard: Preventing and Responding to Cyberbullying. This essential guide is updated with new research findings and evolving best practices for prevention and response, including:
- Summaries of recent legal rulings about teens and technology
- A prevention and response plan for educators, parents, students, and law enforcement to work individually and together
- Additional useful tips and strategies to use
- Bullying and Cyberbullying: What Every Educator Needs to Know This book helps to dispel myths and misconceptions about peer cruelty, bullying, and cyberbullying. It discusses how educators can flag problematic behaviors and come up with effective responses.
- Screenwise: Helping Kids Thrive (and Survive) in Their Digital World
Cyber bullying is an unfortunate reality of life in the modern era, but that does not mean we have to be complacent about it. It is important to communicate with your teen and let him/her know that you are on his/her side.
Adolescence is a time of many changes. You may find out things about your teen that are hard for you to accept. For example, you may find out that your teen has experimented with alcohol, drugs, sexual behaviour, or that they are LGBQT. It is very important that your teen knows that you love and accept them no matter what. Tell them that you are in their corner in terms of helping them to figure life out. It can sometimes help to remind your teen that they will not be a teenager forever. For many, adolescence is a nightmare they simply have to get through. Sometimes, you will need to take a deep breath and swallow your judgment and determine the best response in order to keep the lines of communication open and to keep your teen safe.
The reason this is relevant to cyber bullying is that if your child has engaged in behaviours you might disapprove of and someone took a photo, for example, and is circulating that online as a form of cyber bullying, if your teen knows you will “kill” them for it, they will never open up to you. Parenting a teen is hard work. Being a teen is also hard. However, with compassion and communication, you can successfully navigate these challenging years.
And a guide for parents:
Hinduja S, Patchin J (2008) Cyberbullying: An exploratory analysis of factors related to offending and victimization. Deviant Behav 29:129-156.
Livingstone, Sonia, Stoilova, Mariya and Kelly, Anthony (2016) Cyberbullying: incidence, trends and consequences. In: Ending the Torment: Tackling Bullying from the Schoolyard to Cyberspace. United Nations Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children, New York, USA, pp. 115-120. ISBN 9789211013443. Retrieved from http://eprints.lse.ac.uk/68079/1/Livingstone_Cyberbullying%20incidence%20trends_2016.pdf
Tokunaga RS (2010) Following you home from school: A critical review and synthesis of research on cyberbullying victimization. Comp Human Behav 26:277-287.
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