Technology has changed the way we socialize, collaborate, and stay entertained. For the most part, these changes have been positive but there is a dark side to social networks, text messaging, and Internet forums that needs our attention. During Bullying Prevention Awareness Month, we concentrate on cyberbullying – what it is, how to prevent it, and how to help others.
What is Cyberbullying?
Cyberbullying is bullying that takes place using electronic technology; it can be a mean text message, a hateful comment on social media, or an embarrassing photo or video. The 24/7 nature of the Internet and the ability to remain anonymous make it possible for cyberbullies to attack at all hours of the day and, seemingly, without consequence.
Bullying is most commonly associated with children and teens but adults are not spared from the cruelty of others. No matter the person’s age, cyberbullying can cause anxiety, depression, and, in some cases, suicide.
It is easy for cyberbullies to attack using technology, and the problem can be easily ignored. More than 40% of kids have been bullied online and 90% of teens who have witnessed bullying on social media say they have ignored it. More than half of cyberbullying victims do not report the incidents to a parent or authority figure, citing a feeling of helplessness, humiliation, and fear of rejection as their reasons.
Adult cyberbullying often takes the form of trolling, or catching a victim online and demeaning or humiliating them through messages or comments. A troll’s intention is to provoke others into having an emotional response and is likely to take place on social media, blogs, and forums. Online learning has opened the door to another form of cyberbullying — that of faculty members or classmates by a student. Most schools have a student conduct policy that outlines consequences for using harassing or abusive language when interacting with students and faculty, such as suspension or expulsion.
What to Look Out For
There are warning signs that can help you identify if a child is being bullied or is a bully. Kids who are bullied may experience a decline in grades or loss of interest in school, changes in eating habits, sudden loss of friends, or self-destructive behaviors. Some signs that a child is a bully include the inability to accept responsibility for their actions, increased aggressiveness, getting into physical or verbal fights, or having friends who bully others. The signs can be applicable to teens and adults as well.
What Can I Do?
Understanding what your children are doing online is the first step in helping to prevent cyberbullying. As a parent or guardian, you should have an open dialogue about the sites your child visits and how he/she uses them. It is important to establish trust so that if cyberbullying does take place, your child will feel comfortable coming to you with the issue.
How to Report Cyberbullying
The steps you take to report cyberbullying will depend on the severity of the incident but are applicable to children and adults who are either victims or witnesses to the attack. The first step is to document the attack with a screenshot or by printing out the conversation. Do not respond to the cyberbully, as it may provoke additional comments, and block the individual if possible. Cyberbullying usually violates a website’s terms of service, in which case it should be reported to site administrators so the organization can take action. When cyberbullying involves violent threats, stalking, hate crimes, or sexually explicit content then it should be reported to law enforcement.
There are dozens of organizations devoted to the prevention of and taking action against cyberbullying.
- StopBullying.gov provides information on bullying and is managed by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services.
- Cyberbullying Research Center provides up-to-date information about the nature, extent, causes, and consequences of cyberbullying among adolescents.
- WeStopHate.org is a non-profit dedicated to raising self-esteem in teens who have been bullied.
- Stomp Out Bullying focuses on reducing and preventing cyberbullying and other forms of digital abuse through education, peer mentoring, and other campaigns.
- Megan Meier Foundation aims to bring awareness, education, and promote positive change in response to the issues surrounding bullying and cyberbullying. It was founded by Tina Meier after her daughter committed suicide as a result of being cyberbullied.
As an online institution, APUS recognizes the importance of maintaining a safe environment for our students, faculty, and staff. Will you stand with us as we X out cyberbullying?
By Madeline Kronfeld
Online Learning Tips Contributor