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For Parents: Cyberbullying

There are many definitions of cyberbullying.  Quite simply, cyberbullying is “Willful and repeated harm inflicted through the use of computers, cell phones and other electronic devices.”

  • Willful: the actions are deliberate, not accidental
  • Repeated: there is a pattern of behavior, not just one isolated incident
  • Harm: the target feels hurt or humiliated
  • Computer, cell phones and other electronic devices: this is what makes it cyberbullying and not bullying††

Cyberbully:  An individual or group that uses information and communication involving electronic technologies to deliberately and repeatedly harass or threaten another individual or group. In cyberspace, bullies can easily (and sometimes anonymously) say and do mean and inappropriate things with just the click of a button. Cyberbullies don’t have to be more physically or socially powerful than their victims. They may use fictitious names to create online social networking and email accounts, which they then use to cyberbully others. For example, in 2006, a 16-year-old boy connected with a 13-year-old-girl via MySpace.com. Over time, the online relationship became flirtatious until the boy turned mean, calling the girl names and suggesting the world would be better off without her. The young girl was deeply hurt and ultimately hanged herself in her bedroom closet. It turned out that the “boy” was, in reality, a virtual identity created by a 47-year-old woman in the neighborhood, who allegedly wanted to find out how the young girl felt about her daughter.

How Common is Cyberbullying?

Cyberbullying is one of the most common and hurtful ways young people (and some adults) misuse the Internet. They use technology to bully through personal web pages; social networking sites such as MySpace, FaceBook or Flickr; YouTube; cell phone, text, picture and video messages; email and IMing; and blogs and forums. Cyberbullying is widespread. A 2008 study of 1,454 students aged 12 to 17 found that nearly three quarters of students reported being bullied online in the past 12 months (72%) and that they knew the perpetrators (73%).  In the past 12 months:

  • 41% of the students reported being cyberbullied between 1 and 3 times
  • 13% reported 4 to 6 incidents
  • 19% reported 7 or more incidents(Juvonen and Gross, Extending the school grounds?—Bullying experiences in cyberspace, 2008)

However, only 1 in 10 students reported it to an adult. Insults were the No. 1 reported problems, and password theft was the second highest ranking issue. This involves someone stealing a password, logging onto an account and sending or uploading content that makes the account owner look bad. The study also found that:

  • 75% of the respondents were female.
  • Girls were far more likely to use blogs, Instant Messaging (IM), email and cell phones than boys.
  • Most often, cyberbullying was done through IM.
  • Students who frequently used webcams were the most likely to be repeatedly bullied.

Types of Cyberbullying

Cyber Stalking: Repeatedly sending messages that are threatening or intimidating. Engaging in other online activities that make the victim afraid for his or her safety.

Cyber Threats: The use of a computer, cell phone or other electronic device to threaten a person’s physical safety and well-being (Hinduja & Patchin 2009).

Defamation: “Dissing” someone online. Sending or posting cruel gossip or rumors about a person to damage his or her reputation or friendships.

Exclusion: Intentionally excluding someone from an online group, like a buddy list.

Flaming or Trolling: Online fighting using electronic messages with angry and crude language.

Happy Slapping: A phenomenon that links traditional bullying with cyberbullying where an unsuspected person is recorded being harassed or bullied in a way that usually includes some type of physical abuse.  The digital photo or video is uploaded to the web (Hinduja & Patchin 2009).

Harassment: Repeatedly sending offensive, rude and insulting messages.

Impersonation: Pretending to be someone else and sending or posting material online that makes the victim look bad, gets the victim in trouble or danger, or damages the victim’s reputation or friendships.

Outing and Trickery: Sharing someone’s secret or embarrassing information online. Tricking someone into revealing secrets or embarrassing information that is then shared online.

Photoshopping: The modification or alteration of a photo or image.  This becomes cyberbullying if the image is altered in a humiliating or obscene way and uploaded to the Web (Hinduja & Patchin 2009).

Signs of Cyberbullying

A young person who is being bullied via the Internet or a cell phone may:

  • Be frustrated or angry after computer or cell phone use
  • Avoid discussions about computer or cell phone use
  • Become anxious over instant messages or emails
  • Have sudden changes in mood or disposition
  • Stop using a computer

“… Cyberbullying starts in second grade these days, as soon as they’re interactive, which is becoming younger and younger with sites like Webkinz and Club Penguin and kids using text messaging on cell phones and AIM at much earlier ages. It starts at six or seven these days.” —Parry Aftab, Executive director, WiredSafety.org quoted on PBS FRONTLINE

The cyberbully may:

  • Avoid discussions about computer use
  • Become agitated when unable to use the computer
  • Use the computer excessively
  • Use multiple accounts that may not be his or her own
  • Close programs down or not allow anyone else to view the screen

What to Do

For information on how to prevent cyberbullying, see the Teens and Tweens section on What to do if your child is being cyberbullied.

National and state freedom of speech laws include and protect Internet speech, even if that speech is critical, annoying, offensive or demeaning, so long as it does not include a direct threat or incite violence. However, if your child is the victim of cyberbullying, help your child follow these guidelines:

  • Keep their parents or another trusted adult informed of the bullying.
  • Speak with their teacher, principal or SRO if it is school related.

Remember that cyberbullying is not about them; it’s about bullies who:

  • Want to feel powerful
  • Seek attention
  • Probably have been bullied themselves.  Here are tips to keep in mind:
  • Don’t open or read messages by cyberbullies.
  • Don’t react to the bully – ignore him/her.
  • Walk away from the computer.

If ignoring the bully doesn’t work:

  • Again, keep parents or another trusted adult informed of the bullying.
  • Speak with their teacher, principal or SRO if it is school related.
  • Don’t meet with the bully.
  • Block the bully.
  • Don’t erase messages or images from the bully.  Save them to a folder as evidence in case the bullying escalates and law enforcement gets involved.
  • Contact the Internet Service Provider (ISP) to report the harassment.
  • Inform the police if the child is threatened with harm.

As a parent, get involved.

  • Establish Internet Responsibility Guidelines in your home.
  • Determine, with your children, what it means to be responsible and respectful when using technology.
  • Ask your children to show you how they use technology and to teach you about the technological tools they use.
  • Reach an agreement with your children about Internet rules.
  • Consider a Family Internet Use Contract (PDF).

For statistics and more information on how to prevent and respond to cyberbullying, refer to the following links:

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