If you grew up before the arrival of e-mail, texting, social networking, and smartphones, your
understanding of the bullying arena includes playgrounds, school buses, walks home from school, locker rooms, and school hallways. Bullying has always been painful and shameful. Any child who has been bullied carries the memories with him, even if he has overcome them.
Technology has dramatically changed the playing field for how we communicate and interact as a society. Unfortunately, this includes the playing field of bullying. No longer is name-calling and shaming limited to the playground and other “physically” public arenas. Now bullies have public access that is much more far-reaching and potentially more damaging. This is Cyberbullying. Bill Belsey, an expert on cyberbulling, defines cyberbullying as: the use of information and communication technologies (e.g., email, text messages, instant messaging, social networking) to support deliberate, repeated, and hostile behavior by an individual or group that is intended to harm others.
Cyberbullying is most commonly seen among adolescents. The developing adolescent brain contributes to the rise of cyberbullying. The adolescent brain is not fully matured, specifically the frontal lobe which helps to inhibit impulses. The click of the icon on that smartphone is easy for a teen who is full of emotion, and less full of behavioral inhibition. With the click of a key on a keypad, reputations can be jeopardized, secrets can be publicized, and children can be broken … by their peers. The lack of face-to-face interaction provided by technology creates a lack of boundaries for the bully. There is also a lack of a sense of accountability or consequence. “If I can’t see you … I can’t see your reaction … I don’t feel empathy.” There is a disconnect between the individual’s action (the bully’s) and the reaction it elicits (from the victim). Type it and “click.” Everyone does it, so it makes it okay … right?
The content of cyberbullying does not go away once it is dispersed on the internet. The audience it reaches is immediate and vast. It is intrusive, lacks censoring, and is unforgiving. The damage can be devastating. News headlines about teen suicides related to internet harassment/bullying are not uncommon.
Just as in “classic” bullying, cyberbullying includes the following cast of characters:
The Bully – aggressive perpetrator against the victim
The Bully-Victim – sometimes the bully, sometimes the victim
The Victim – receiver of aggression
The Bystander – witness to the aggression
Signs of the cyberbullied victim include: sudden stop in use of the computer, appears nervous when their phone indicates a text or instant message, is angry or depressed after using the computer, anxious about going to school or out socially, avoidance of questions related to the computer or phone interactions, or withdrawn from friends and family.
Signs of the cyberbully include: closing or switching screens on the computer/phone/tablet when someone walks by, compulsive computer use, upset if cannot use the computer, avoidance of questions about computer/phone/tablet use, and/or multiple on-line accounts.
Some of the ways that parents can help their children who are victimized by cyberbullying include: Setting up blocks on social networking sites, cellphones, email to prevent the cyberbully’s assaults. Talk with the victim about not opening messages from the bully. Contact the child’s school and the bully’s parents. Check the “terms and conditions” of internet providers, websites, cell phone companies to determine if the language used violates the use of services. And it may be necessary for the victim to receive professional support through counseling/therapy to help to regain self-esteem, self-confidence, and self-worth.
Schools are developing cyberbullying policies to help address this issue. Some ways this is being done is through teaching internet safety, anti-cyberbullying curriculum, mentoring programs, monitoring students at-risk for cyberbullying, investigation procedures, consequences and remedial actions (e.g., zero tolerance policies or graduated consequences), and programs for educating students, parents, teachers and staff about cyberbullying.
The following websites about cyberbullying are helpful resources in understanding cyberbullying and for getting help:
Technology brings about changes that impact our lives dramatically -- positively, and, at times, negatively. The playground of bullying has changed with the ever-changing communication avenues through technology. Becoming aware of the negative impact helps us to prevent it.