Bullying Online

Bullying has been around forever, but when you add e-mail, blogs, instant messaging, and other electronic methods, it takes on an entirely new dimension. Cyberbullying, online harassment, and cyber stalking, are all terms for ways in which those who wish to hurt others, for whatever reason, can use online tools to do so.

Cyberbullies can deliver an onslaught of accusations and threats through instant and text messages, e-mail, or cell phones at any time of the day or night. Bullies stealthily can take and alter photos in damaging ways or add derogatory comments; they can then post them on social networking sites (like MySpace) or send them in e-mail to the victim’s friends and family. Sometimes, pretending to be the victim, they create fake blogs, to stir up trouble with the victim’s friends, to post embarrassing videos, and so on-or, in an extreme form of cyberbullying to entice a predator. Because cyberbullies can easily remain anonymous, they don’t have to be big or strong to harass others in this way.

An example of cyberbullying in e-mail

The effect on victims can leave them feeling that there is no one they can trust. This can cause them to withdraw from friends and family members, thereby increasing their feelings of isolation and stress.

Read on to find out how to be less vulnerable to online bullying and what to do if either you or your child is a victim of this kind of online intimidation.

Five safety tips to avoid online bullying

  1. Keep personal information (address, phone number, etc.), feelings, or personal photos private.
    These are a good starting point for thwarting the random cyberbully. If bullies don’t know how to find you, it’s harder for them to attack online. If they don’t have your photo, they can’t manipulate it to embarrass you.
  2. Block anyone whose behavior is inappropriate or threatening in any way.
  3. Never answer phone calls or read messages, e-mail, or comments from cyberbullies.
    Just set them aside in case they are needed by authorities as evidence or to take action. Instruct your kids to do the same.
  4. Watch over your kids.
    • Put your family computer and Internet-connected game consoles in a central location. A family room or kitchen makes a good place where you can keep an eye on whether they’re being harassed or are using the computer to bully others.
    • Check in with your children periodically about whether they’re being bullied either online or on their cell phones.
    • Encourage your children to report bullying to you and take action on their behalf. Don’t dismiss their problems.
  5. Make sure your children know why they should never bully others, and make it clear what the consequences will be if they do.

Learn More Read about cyberbullying and harassment in chapter 16 (“Act to Avoid Harassment and Bullying”) in Look Both Ways.

What to do if someone is bullying you or your child

Often young people who are victims of bullying are told they should “just ignore it” or “toughen up.” Instead, they should be supported in speaking up if someone is abusing them online.

It is a myth that “weaklings tattle.” In reality those who tell are the ones who are not willing to be bullied. Speaking out and getting help are positive declarations that they deserve better.

Every effort should be made to find the bully and punish him or her. Bullying directly affects the emotional well-being of children, impacts the ability of all students to learn, and thwarts a school’s ability to create a safe place for learning.

  1. If you feel that you or your child is in any way unsafe, call the police.
    Don’t hesitate or wait to see if it will stop.
  2. Report bullying, harassment, or stalking if you or your children feel any personal threat, or someone stalks or continually harasses you. If the services don’t provide the support you need, change services and let them know why you changed. Reputable companies should have an easily discoverable report abuse function.
    • Report it to your Internet service provider (ISP) or cell phone company, and follow any instructions for documenting the problem and taking action against the abuser.
    • Many services-blog sites, chat rooms, instant messaging services-have moderators and places to report abuse or ways to help you block undesirable people from contacting you. Use them.
    • If the bullying is related to school or work environment, report it to the school or employer. They should have strict policies and act on them quickly.

Learn More Read about cyberbullying and harassment in chapter 16 (“Act to Avoid Harassment and Bullying”) in Look Both Ways.

Cyberbullying is a serious problem

Cyberbullies don’t have to confront their victims in person or ever identify themselves-that’s part of the appeal. They can hide in the shadows and hurl insults from a distance where there is no fear of retaliation. That anonymity can be even more frightening for the victim who doesn’t even know who the tormentor is—especially if the tormentor pretends to be one of their friends.

Online bullies can be physically weak or even younger than their victims, but still cause tremendous psychological pain. Since physical size is no longer required to become an aggressor, and with virtually unlimited access to potential targets, the Internet provides a sort of “equal opportunity offender” environment that allows anyone with a grudge or chip on their shoulder to act on their feelings.

Online bullying and harassment is a serious problem around the world.

Though the full impact is difficult to measure because of under-reporting, to more fully understand the toll society pays when bullies are allowed to operate, consider the information below.

Harassment online is growing; In fact, the prevalence of online bullying has now surpassed traditional physical bullying. Whether such attacks represent a personal vendetta between two adults, a spurned date, the stalking behavior of a complete stranger, or teens ganging up on another teen, these campaigns have at times gone so far that their victims have sought psychiatric treatment or been pushed over the edge to suicide. The schoolyard bully that kids once faced at recess for 20 minutes a day seems tame compared with the online bully who can harass victims 24 hours a day.

Bullying isn’t limited to other kids

Though the focus in the press is on cyberbullying among children and teens, bullying actually affects people of all ages.

Students angry at a teacher or principal may viciously attack them online, exposing their personal information like address and phone numbers, write slanderous content, post altered photos and the like.  Women between the ages of 24 and 35 are an oft- targeted group as the men they dated (or wouldn’t date) stalk and harass them. Workplace bullying has required that most companies and organizations create clear rules against harassment.

Online bullying is also sometimes aimed at parents to retaliate for a perceived or real injury—for example, a divorce or separation of the parents. An angry child may post unfavorable comments about a parent. Or a child might try to humiliate the parent or even ruin a parent’s reputation by posting the family’s financial information, exposing domestic problems (drinking, loud arguments, or even abuse), or by simply making up stories.

The ability to instantly send out information combined with a child’s poor impulse control is a volatile mix. In the past, if a child wanted to spread rumors, they could only go to one person at a time, minimizing the spread of information. Such rumors might get back to parents in time for them to limit the damage. As time passed, the child might reconsider his or her actions. But online, it takes just the click of a mouse to send such fabrications to a huge number of people.

Bullying deeply affects the bully

Some parents of bullies tend to minimize or dismiss the behavior of their child. They consider such behavior as being “just a phase,” or say “kids will be kids.” Some believe kids will just work out confrontations among themselves. Often this viewpoint is accompanied by the attitude that the victim should “toughen up.” Not only does this point of view utterly disregard the tremendous damage done to victims, it also fails to recognize the very dangerous path bullies themselves walk.

In fact, the act of bullying may be nearly as damaging to the bully as to the person being bullied, and if common decency isn’t a motivator then this may be the single most compelling reason for bullies (or their parents) to reconsider their actions and attitudes.

Research showing that bullies may enjoy a temporary level of popularity and peer status, also indicates they have trouble making and keeping friends, usually do poorly in school, and are in general not liked by their teachers.

A study conducted in Finland, Bullying, depression, and suicidal ideation in Finnish adolescents: school survey concluded: “Adolescents who are being bullied and those who are bullies are at an increased risk of depression and suicide. The need for psychiatric intervention should be considered not only for victims of bullying but also for bullies.”

Unchecked bullying is often an early step towards more serious misbehavior and unlawful activity.

  • Some research indicates that nearly 60 percent of boys who researchers classified as bullies in grades 6–9 were convicted of at least one crime by the age of 24; 40 percent of them had three or more convictions by age 24. (2)
  • Among boys who said they had bullied others at least once a week in school, more than half had carried a weapon in the past month, 43 percent had carried a weapon in school, 39 percent were involved in frequent fighting, and 46 percent reported having been injured in a fight. (3)
  • Bullies also have an increased risk for using alcohol and drugs.

Learn More Read about cyberbullying and harassment and how to protect yourself in chapter 16 (“Act to Avoid Harassment and Bullying”) in Look Both Ways.

(1) Banks, 1997, National Education Association, 2003

(2) Fight Crime: Invest in Kids, September 2003

(3) National Institute of Health, 2003


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