We know that bullies come in all sizes and can be found in many places – playgrounds, cafeterias, sports teams, college dorms, even workplaces. In the last ten years of advanced technology there is a new hiding place for a destructive and often lethal bully – cyber space.
What is Cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying is the use of internet or other digital devices as E-mail, instant messaging, text messages, social networking sites, web pages, blogs, chat rooms or interactive game sites to send negative and harmful messages and images. While the term “Cyberbullying” is technically used when the victim or bully in a minor, it is also applied to the cyber harassment of college students.
Cyberbullying Takes Many Forms
According to Nancy Willard of the Center for Safe and Responsible Use of the Internet, cyberbullying can take the form of:
Cyberbullying like any form of bullying is relational aggression. It is intended to make the victim feel frightened, humiliated, helpless and too often – hopeless. What makes cyber bullying particularly harmful and in the case of at least five young people who have committed suicide, so deadly, is the nature and virulent reach of electronic medium.
Cyberbullying is anonymous. Perpetrators can torture and harass without detection. Cyberbullying is relentless. It can be conducted 24/7 appearing constantly on the phone and computer that a young person uses on a daily basis for school and social connections. Cyberbullying assaults privacy boundaries in a way that magnifies the horror as it makes damaging material public to an infinite audience that can instantly download, save or forward to others.
Reported in Cyber Bully: Bullying in a Digital Age, David Knight, a high school student who found that a web page of negative, sexual accusations and negative descriptions about him had reached as far as Thailand, painfully describes, “Anyone with a computer can see it…It doesn’t go away when you come home from school. It makes me feel even more trapped.”
Statistics on Cyberbullying
Statistics reveals an increasing problem. Four in ten teens have experienced online bullying; girls are twice as likely to be victims and perpetrators, usually engaging in social sabotage of others; boys are more likely to target girls and less aggressive males; sexual and homophobic harassment is emerging as a prevalent aspect of cyberbullying; cyberbullying is most prevalent among 15 and 16 year olds; and the more that young people share their identities and thoughts on social networking sites as MySpace and Facebook, the more likely they are to be targets than those who do not use the sites.
Why Teens Don’t Tell
Electronic harassment is as real as and often more frightening than face to face bullying. Much like stalking or other types of assault the victim can often feel helpless, frozen, isolated, ashamed and not likely to reveal what is going on to parents or sometimes even to friends. According to surveys, only 35% of cyberbullied teens and 51% of preteens told parents. The reasons given by teens in Focus Groups were fear of restriction from electronic use, fear of being blamed or expectation of parents’ overreactions.
Feeling Safer in Cyber-Space
The answer for parents is not to ban a child or teen from their technological connections or to read every E-mail. Cyberspace is as much a viable social world as the playground, candy store or Mall was to earlier generations.
Guidelines for Responding to Cyberbullying
As reflected in the title of Barbara Coloroso’s book on bullying, the cycle of this type of violence includes the bully, the bullied and the bystanders. In all types of bullying the role of the bystander is crucial – perhaps even more so in cyber bullying.
If we overlook the ease with which we or our children can unwittingly add to the horror of damaging someone’s life by passing on the secrets, privacy or exposure of another with a simple click, we make cyberspace a dangerous place. If we talk about and participate in steps with friends and family to stop, delete, tell, block and report cyber assault, if we show compassion, we change from bystanders to protectors.
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Last reviewed: 9 Oct 2010