Cyberbullying (Part 1 of 2)

Be prepared… your child might be next!

Part I of a two-part article
by Joel D. Haber, Ph.D.

Before the internet, mean gossip would be whispered or written on notes and passed between students in school: "I hate Susie, she's so mean"; "Karen slept with Bill"; "Jimmy is a total loser." You might have even seen it on the bathroom wall: "For a good time, call…"

The "sticks and stones may break my bones" schoolyard idium has a PG rating compared to new ways bullying over the internet can destroy and humiliate its targets. The dangers of cyberbulling were made painfully apparent nearly two years ago when Missouri 16-year-old Megan Meier committed suicide after falling prey to a cyberbulling campaign allegedly created by the mother of one of her friends.
Cyberbullying grows because of its ease. The trend for children confronting one another face-to-face and over the telephone is rapidly decreasing. One can now hurt someone and be indirect - they don't see their target's immediate reaction or the consequences of their actions. This impersonal method of communication allows children to be more bold and brash with their insults, meanness, and conversations. With minimal computer know-how, these missives can be delivered anonymously, so the bully feels invulnerable.  This is a recipe for an ugly and growing problem.
What is Cyberbullying?

Cyberbullying involves threatening or other intentionally offensive behavior sent online to a target, or posted online about the target for others to see or hear.  How is this new cyberbullying trend playing out over the internet and in our schools?  Here are just a few ways:

  • A picture of a girl leaving the shower in the gym locker room is posted online without her knowledge, taken knowingly by another student.
  • An online rumor started by a group of boys about a classmate they claimed to be "gay" is posted on an internet site created for the purpose of humiliating him.
  • A middle school "hit list" of the biggest sluts at school is posted on a popular social networking site.
  • Online profiles of students and teachers are created which are nasty, disturbing and meant to harm the targets by exposing their vulnerabilities in upsetting ways.
  • Students relate sexually inappropriate information online about other students to "ruin their reputations".
  • A group purposefully excludes a "friend" from a birthday party, sleepover, or social gathering, yet makes sure the "friend" receives emails regarding the event.

The Impact of Cyberbullying

If your child is a victim of cyberbullying, the effects can be long-lasting. It affects their school day, interrupts their academic performance and social life. Kids worry more about the next taunt than about their school work.  Cyberbullying can lead to lower self esteem, depression, anxiety, withdrawal from school and peers, and in extreme cases like Megan's, suicide. That's why as a parent you need to know about cyberbullying as well as other types of bullying so you can step in and do something about it.

Types of Cyberbullying

Cyberbullying is one of the most dangerous forms of bullying ever in existence, and is growing rapidly because it is so easy to do.  The data is hard to ignore.  Among preteens and teens, cyberbullyiing has increased by over 50% in the last five years, and continues to grow at astonishing rates. Over a third of all teens report they have had mean, threatening or embarrassing things said about them online. Yet, under half of all kids and under a third of teens tell an adult about it.

Bullying is intentional and meant to hurt.  Cyberbullying is the same, just delivered  electronically.  Be on the alert for the following types of cyberbullying:

  • Websites created to harass. Websites are easy and sometimes free to create. They can be set up just to insult someone.
  • Impersonation. A student can impersonate another student and send out IM's or emails supposedly from that person.
  • Gossip groups. Message boards, blogs, MySpace pages, and e-mail groups can be used to bully. Kids discuss kids they don't like and invite others to comment on the material.
  • Photo and video postings. Videos posted on YouTube or other video-sharing sites can show embarrassing things done to others or display attacks made on other kids. Homemade video clips and cell phone attacks can be posted online and even manipulated through photo-editing software to appear even worse than the original act.
  • Direct bullying. A child can receive a hurtful message - "Everyone hates you" - delivered by email, instant message or text message by an unknown screen name or a larger group of kids trying to be hurtful.

Go to Part II of this article – Cyberbullying: What Parents Can Do To Reduce Cyberbullying Threats.

Joel Haber is a Clinical Psychologist and has devoted more than 20 years in practice to better parenting and helping children, teens and adults lead more productive lives.



Comment by kathy, posted 9/25/2008, 2:26 PM:

this rocks!
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