No black eyes involved. But cyberbullying can have bruising, lifelong consequences. Here’s what you need to know.
Bullying used to take place on the playground or in school hallways: an insult here, a shove there, the occasional black eye. Now there’s a new threat in town: cyberbullying.
This behavior plays out online—in emails and text messages; and on websites, blogs, and social-media platforms, like Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, and WhatsApp.
Cyberbullying can happen at home or at school. It occurs more frequently among girls than boys, and the nature of the attacks usually differs: boys generally send threatening or sexually themed messages, while girls tend to spread rumors, make fun of others, exclude their peers, or tell secrets. Jilted parties in relationship breakups may publicize resentments, spread lies, and post inappropriate photos.
LGBT youth are four times likelier than their heterosexual peers to be victimized.
While more pervasive among adolescents and teens, victims and perpetrators can be younger than 12. More often than not, the bully knows his or her prey.
Since they don’t have to look their victim in the eye, cyberbullies feel empowered to be cruel—and often do their dirty work anonymously.
Some common cyberbullying techniques include:
- Sending nasty or threatening emails, instant messages, or text messages
- Hacking into someone’s email or IM account and, masquerading as that person, sends out hateful or rude messages that will get the victim in trouble
- Soliciting personal or embarrassing information from a “friend” and blasting it around the Internet
- Sending viruses that allow the bully to spy on someone, take over his/her computer, or erase the hard drive
- Setting up websites or blogs that ridicule classmates or teachers
- Creating polls on social media, forums, or websites that rate “who’s hot,” “who’s not,” “who’s a slut,” and so forth
How to know if a student is being cyberbullied?
Parents, teachers, and school staff should be on the alert for telltale signs like:
- Poor academic performance
- Depression, sullenness, withdrawal, and/or irritability
- Low self-esteem
- Loss of interest in activities the child previously enjoyed
- Anxiety about going to school
Bullying—whether traditional or cyber—can have severe consequences, including post-traumatic stress, self-injury, and increased risk of suicide (the second-leading cause of death in teens).
Unlike in-person bullying, kids can’t just walk away from its cyber counterpart: It can haunt them anywhere at any time—when they’re at school and when they’re alone.
And the damage—harassing messages, degrading photos, insults, and the like—is often widespread and extremely difficult to delete. Plus, it can haunt the victim for years.
How can you help prevent cyberbullying?
Here, a few tips:
- Educate kids on how to be responsible digital citizens
- Adopt strict Internet codes of conduct that forbid any form of cyberbullying
- Advise kids to report any threat of violence to the school and police
- Remind students that baring their hearts, souls, and bodies in any electronic form is dangerous; the info can quickly go viral and lead to humiliation and worse
- Conduct cyberbullying workshops with parents and teach them the importance of online safety
- Keep a vigilant eye out for suspicious behavior and proactively speak to
Some excellent resources for staff, students, and parents:
Has your school dealt with cyberbullying? Share your experiences and tips in the comments section below.